Traveler Caution for the Holidays

Virginians driving to warmer climes over the holidays are cautioned to double-check their car trunks – they might be inadvertently smuggling drugs.

While especially a problem on the US-Mexican border, the method of creating unknowing drug mules works just a well for cocaine shipments from Florida or Texas. Drug cartels are feeling the squeeze on US interstates, where police are hungry to nab smugglers moving drugs across the country. So some of the bad guys have decided to let innocent travelers take the risk for them.

In one situation described from August, KHOU News reported on just how sophisticated it can get. Drug dealers in Mexico were reading vehicle identification numbers off cars with US plates and making keys from the info. They wouldn’t steal the cars, they used the keys to access the trunks while the vehicles were parked overnight. Knowing the owners would be crossing back into the US, the drug traffickers would conceal packages of drugs in the car’s trunk.

The scheme had a follow-up on the US side of the border. Once a “stuffed” car crossed, a confederate would follow it and wait for the occupants to stop for the night. The drugs would then be recovered. Your license plates pretty much tell traffickers where you’ll end up and the packages can be small enough to hide under a spare tire. It doesn’t take much cocaine or heroin to make the scheme pay off.

How did customs figure this out? Well, several arrests for drug smuggling at the border of otherwise innocent civilians led them to suspect that maybe, just maybe, these people were telling the truth when they said they didn’t know about the drugs. A Ford dealership turned out to be one source for the keys, and several people were targeted who regularly crossed the border for employment or school.

Just as at the airport, where they ask if you packed your bags yourself, it might be wise to do a little investigation of your car before heading back home. You wouldn’t want a drug dog on the side of the highway to figure it out first.


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