Every day, as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, I ask our members to put themselves in potentially hazardous situations in order to do their job. This is the nature of policing, which is inherently dangerous. I do it with their safety, and the safety of the community at the forefront of my mind.
The same cannot be said for the criminals running drug smuggling rings and scam operations. For these criminals, couriers and victims are disposable and expendable. They are tossed aside as soon as they are no longer useful.
The reality is that if people are caught bringing drugs into Australia they can expect to be charged. Since 2013, the AFP has arrested 39 people at Australian airports for smuggling drugs into the country, who have claimed they were scammed. Claiming ignorance of drugs hidden inside your luggage does not provide immunity from criminal charges.
In addition to the risk of being charged with serious offences upon their return to Australia, people who use transit countries on their way home are also risking more severe penalties. In the majority of our neighbouring countries there are no mitigating circumstances for drug trafficking offences.
During the first six months of 2015, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received 1739 reports of inheritance scams, where people were asked to pay money or provide personal details to receive an inheritance. In the same time period, these types of scams duped Australians out of $3.6 million, while a staggering $45 million was lost to scams overall.
Time and again, Australians are falling victim to a variety of financial, inheritance and romance scams. International crime groups continue to use these well-established scams to convince people to travel overseas for dubious purposes. Once offshore, people can be held for ransom or asked to undertake a task most people would consider suspicious, such as carrying a package or accepting a gift of new luggage, resulting in the person – either knowingly, recklessly, or by consciously refusing to consider the risks – carrying drugs back into Australia.
In 2013, an elderly Perth couple ‘won’ a free trip to Canada online. After travelling overseas to claim their prize, they were presented with new luggage to take back home. The couple thought this was odd, and they were right. They presented the luggage to Australian authorities, who found a total of seven kilograms of crystal methamphetamine concealed within.
In this case, a man had planned to break in to the couple’s house and replace the drug-filled suitcases with empty ones. AFP investigators quickly determined this couple had no role in the import, and arrested the man who planned the break in. Not all are so lucky.
The AFP and our partner agencies experience the ruin these scams inflict on individuals and families: financially, emotionally and physically. They can literally tear families apart. The message is clear: the Australian public must be wary and vigilant. Be on the lookout for warning signs not only for yourself, but also and for your loved ones.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever been offered payment to travel overseas for someone you’ve never met?
- Has someone you don’t know sent you money to pay for your holiday?
- Has someone asked you to bring a bag, suitcase or a gift back into Australia?
- Did someone else pack your luggage?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have been targeted to act as a drug mule.
The old adage is true: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re found to be carrying drugs on arrival into Australia you can expect to be charged with serious drug importation offences. If transiting through other countries the penalties may be even more severe.
If you believe you or someone you know might be a victim, or have any information regarding potential scams, please call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
The Scamwatch website – http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/ – is a great resource for people to educate themselves.
Please, consider the risks and take the opportunity to protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to become a drug mule or a victim of another scam, only to be thrown away and discarded by greedy and ruthless criminal syndicates, or wind up in the hands of the law