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Booking online could have seen couple jailed for decades

October 28, 2013 Corporate, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59An elaborate travel scam, set up to trap Australians booking online, recruited would-be travellers as drug mules. It could have landed an unwitting Perth couple in prison for decades.

The Perth couple, believed to be aged in their sixties, were almost caught out by the scam after winning what they thought was a dream trip to Canada. The con was so brazen and cunning that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) have jointly issued a warning about it.

The scam makes consumers feel they have “won” a paid overseas holiday and new luggage, unaware they are being used as drug mules.

The unique investigation began on Sunday 13 October 2013 at Perth International Airport when the couple, both Perth residents, alerted Customs officers about concerns they had with their luggage.

The couple had recently won a competition with a prize of two tickets to Canada, seven nights accommodation and new luggage. The woman told Perth publication WA News that they were “looking online for a holiday, and after entering an online competition” she had been contacted.

After the couple told Perth Customs officers about their luggage misgivings, Customs X-rayed the luggage and found irregularities in the lining of the suitcases. Further examination revealed approximately three and a half kilograms of methamphetamine hidden in each suitcase.

“The AFP will allege the couple were victims of an elaborate scam and were unwitting participants in the drug importation,” the AFP stated.

Police wasted no time. On Sunday 13 October, the same day on which the investigation had begun, they arrested a 38-year-old Canadian man at Perth Airport.

They obtained warrants to search a hotel in Scarborough, where it will be alleged documents associated with this scam, along with electronic equipment, two suitcases (similar to the ones seized at Perth airport) and approximately AUD 15,000 in cash were seized.

The man was charged with Import a Commercial Quantity of a Border Controlled Drug (methamphetamine) contrary to Section 307.1 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995.

“The subsequent investigation has revealed a complex and highly organised scam in which older Australians appear to be targeted by a bogus Canadian-based tour company identifying itself as ‘AUSCAN Tours’,” police stated.

AFP Perth Airport Police Commander David Bachi said this investigation demonstrates that criminals will try anything to get drugs into Australia.

“The organisers of this scam went to great lengths to provide a façade of legitimacy. Thankfully the travellers contacted Customs and didn’t dismiss their concerns, allowing us to make the arrest,” said Commander Bachi.

“We will continue working with local and international law enforcement partners, targeting all elements of this drug syndicate.”

ACBPS Director Airport Operations Perth, Jan Hill, warned travellers about carrying luggage on behalf of someone else.

“If you’ve been asked to carry something on behalf of another person, make the right choice and alert local authorities,” Ms Hill said.

“Do not allow another person to pack your bag and do not carry luggage on behalf of another person.”

The AFP advises anyone who has received a similar offer of travel or may have been a victim of this type of fraud, or have any information about this particular case, to contact the AFP on (131 AFP) or Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 immediately.

Anyone with information on any other scam should contact Crime Stoppers or Scam Watch.

Investigations into the matter continue.

The AFP and ACBPS have warned the villains behind such schemes that the maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment.

Written by Peter Needham

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