Senior-Citizens as Drug Mules?

Commentary, Healthcare & Welfare, Eamonn Brosnan

There are three main methods that con men use to trick their mark. They might try to gain his sympathy, take advantage of greed, or threaten or extort. When presented with these sorts of situations, if you are in the wrong frame of mind, your critical thinking skills might shut down and you see and hear what the con man wants you to see and hear.

When presented with anything like this you should stop and take a step back. If a deal is being offered to you that is too good to be true, it likely is. Never get rushed into making a decision, if a salesman pushes you to make a decision without thinking, there is a reason and it will benefit him not you. If he really has someone else already interested in the deal, why is he pressuring you to buy it first? If someone comes to you with a sob story about their uncle dying and a bank trying to steal their money, why are they coming to a random person online and not the police? If someone is trying to blackmail you with an email-based scam, ask yourself a few important questions.

Most of these scams, regardless of their method of attack, usually ask for a small amount, at first. If they sent you a request for $50,000, they know most people would panic and run to the police. They hook you by asking for small amounts. $500 is enough to hurt, and many people would struggle if that was extorted from them, but most of us could come up with that much in a pinch. But if the con man really had dirt on you, and you willingly forked over $500, why would they really destroy that evidence? They know you will pay them money to stop them from distributing them. So, in a month or two they’ll come back for another $500. Before you know it, you will have given them thousands of dollars, owe a lender a pile of money and you will be desperate to get your money back, and to save face in front of your friends and family.

And that’s how one of the the latest scams gets started. Once they have you on the hook, they reel you in. All it takes is a little at a time, and once the victim is in debt and desperate, they pounce. “Fly to Ecuador and meet our representatives there and you can get your money back”. Then once you are there “Take this suitcase to Australia and our representative there will refund you your money”. The next thing you know you are a drug mule, arrested and awaiting trial in another country. Does this sound implausible? Well, it has been happening, and increasingly the targets have been elderly people in western countries.

Why are they targeting the elderly? Because they are easier to entwine with these types of scams. They are often more likely to be financially vulnerable, on a fixed income from a pension or retirement savings, and they often are more trusting. What’s more, who is a customs person more likely to search, a 70 year-old granny carrying a bag of sweets or a 25 year old guy with long hair? This appears to be a more and more common occurrence, with smuggling rings being busted on a regular basis.

There has been a noticeable enough number of cases of seniors from Canada, the US, and certain Western European nations being forced into this illicit behaviour that the Canada Border Service Agency has issued an intelligence advisory to their front-line staff and associated agencies. Nobody has accurate numbers on this issue, partly because it is a new and growing trend, and partly because most experts feel that it is an under-reported situation. We have quite a few anecdotal stories being reported currently of seniors who have been caught up in these scams. Some are awaiting trial while others are in jail, serving time in another country.

The government has limited abilities to target this anymore than they already are. They are trying to watch for seniors who are leaving the country under suspicious circumstances, to try and catch them before they are ensnared, but that is a nearly impossible task. Really, this comes down to us being more aware. If somebody contacts you with a business deal or romantic proposals, try to be cautious and aware. Be skeptical and try to apply serious second-thinking to reassess every situation. If someone is trying to extort you based on claimed evidence, be it real or possibly fake, consider if what they are threatening you with is really going to be worse than the above noted scam. Sometimes it is better to take a minor embarrassment over a more critical threat.

Watch out for your friends and family, especially our senior family members. Watch for any erratic behaviour or sudden, seemingly spontaneous, trips. Ask questions and be involved in their lives. With our friends and family, especially the seniors that we know, we should be doing these things anyway. We all know we should, but sometimes we get too busy in our own lives, between kids, work, and chores. We sometimes forget that they have always needed us; but today, instead of risking loneliness it might be their freedom and lives that are being risked.