The Government of Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency have issued a warning to senior Canadian travellers, who have increasingly been the target of international drug trafficking and scams.
Using various financial scams, like email phishing and telephone calls, scammers are luring seniors with the promise of romance, large sums of money or business opportunities with travel and expenses paid. Once the unsuspecting traveller establishes a relationship with the scammer, they are unknowingly looped into a drug trafficking ring that then has them unwittingly smuggling large quantities of illegal narcotics over the border.
If caught, these travellers face heavy fines, imprisonment, and in some cases, death.
How does the scam operate?
Most travel scams operate in a similar light: the traveller is contacted by an individual pretending to be a reputable source with the power to provide luxury, all-expenses paid vacations, or a romantic relationship. This individual could be oversees, or even local.
Once the victim has been made comfortable enough with the scammer (usually by frequent communication) and they trust what their new friend is promising or selling, they are often asked to go overseas, generally to Africa, South America or Asia in order to receive the promised financial rewards.
Upon arrival they might be asked to bring a "gift" home with them for contacts in another country— all the while not knowing that these items, perhaps a suitcase, teddy bear, or even candies — are concealing harmful drugs, most notably, heroin or cocaine.
Last week, WestJet issued a warning to the public involving an ongoing phone scam where fraudsters are posing as WestJet representatives.
"It's important the public is aware that these calls are not coming from WestJet or a representative of WestJet," said Richard Bartrem, WestJet's vice president marketing communications. "Many of us here have been on the receiving end of these calls and understand the irritation they are causing. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to the public and encourage Canadians to report their concerns to the correct authorities in the effort to locate the source of the issue."
According to the Canadian government, awareness is your best defense.
Travel agents can share the following recommendations with their senior clients:
- Always pack your own bag prior to departure. Never let anybody else add something last minute, unless you're fully aware of what it contains.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails or phone calls. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Verify where those calls/emails originate from. If you booked with a reputable airline or agency, double-check and let them know what's happening.
- Not all scams happen prior to departure— be wary of who you share personal details with, like where you're staying and where you're going, once you arrive in destination, and be cautious of those who seem too friendly.
What happens if you're caught?
Generally-speaking, these types of scams originate in countries where travel advisories are already in effect. As such, local laws and cultures are different than our Canadian laws.
If a Canadian is caught smuggling drugs at an international border, even if they plead innocence, there's not much the Canadian government can do. The Canadian government states on its website that "if you are found transporting narcotics you may face arrest, criminal charges and a conviction for drug smuggling. The fact that you didn’t know will not necessarily exonerate you of responsibility for what you possess in your luggage."
If arrested or detained in another country on drug charges, the Canadian government's website states that "you should clearly inform the arresting authorities that you want them to immediately notify the nearest Canadian government office abroad of your arrest."
For more information, visit the Government of Canada's website.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!