Transnational criminals and members of organised crime gangs are targeting the elderly by coercing them into working as drug mules to recoup their debts, federal police claim.
The chilling new scamming trend follows a number of border force detections involving elderly passengers at Sydney International Airport, after borders were reopened.
In June, three US nationals – two of them elderly – were found to be carrying 15kg of methamphetamine and 1.5kg of cocaine in the lining of their luggage.
They claimed they were travelling to recover funds from a scam in which they had lost $US500,000.
A month later, two elderly German nationals were found to be carrying 18kg of methamphetamine in the linings of their six suitcases.
The couple told police they had flown into Zimbabwe where the suitcases were allegedly provided to them.
It is alleged travel arrangements had been made by someone with a UK phone, who had messaged one of the travellers about an inheritance of $10m.
In August, a Korean national was arrested and found to have 2.5kg of cocaine in his belongings.
He allegedly told police he had been scammed out of his money and was told he would be given more if he transported a bag into Australia.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) have arrested 18 alleged drug mules upon arriving in Australia since October last year – some of them telling police they had been “coerced” into the role after falling victim to online scams.
Some have claimed they were travelling under the direction of international criminal syndicates, the AFP said.
“Criminal syndicates, by their very nature, exploit vulnerable communities and will undertake whatever tactics necessary to import drugs into our country,” AFP Commander Kate Ferry said.
“The victims of scams are already facing significant financial hardship along with any additional emotional trauma as a result of the online scam.”
The AFP says the resumption of international travel has led to an increase in drug detections at Sydney International Airport.
Australian Border Force (ABF) Commander Susan Drennan urged people to report if they saw something or were part of something that didn’t feel right.
“We also urge all members of the community, including the elderly, to be aware of online scams and tactics used by organised crime to coerce them into providing funds and personal information, or undertake international travel,” she said.