Elderly people are being duped into acting as drug mules for international crime syndicates - prompting a fresh warning today by Customs Minister Nicky Wagner.
While the problem wasn't new, there had been some concerning cases in recent times, including three interceptions of controlled drugs being brought into New Zealand over the past 15 months by passengers over the age of 65.
"Customs' intelligence suggests older generations and the young and vulnerable are at risk are of being targeted by drug syndicates," Wagner said.
Drug syndicates may approach people online to recruit them to become drug couriers - either knowingly or unknowingly.
They're then provided tickets to travel and collect drugs to take to a final destination.
"These people may have invested money into the scam, and received or been promised financial or other benefits at the end of the trip," she said.
"If you or someone you know has travel plans that sound too good to be true - they probably are."
In one case, in 2013, Aucklander Trevor Miranda was lured to Papua New Guinea on the promise of picking up US$8.5 million in cash, but was instead given some luggage containing 1.5kg of methamphetamine hidden in secret compartments in the padding.
After being charged with importing a Class A drug and possession for supply, Miranda, who was 68 at the time, was acquitted on both counts after an 11-week trial.
Customs officials also deal with dozens of "at-risk" Kiwis before departure, explicitly warning them about their suspicions and associated risks, Wagner said.
"Although Customs does not hold powers to stop them from departing, they do their best to make them aware of the risks and consequences of such travel.
"Drug syndicates don't care about the welfare or wellbeing of drug couriers, who end up bearing the full-brunt of the law, whichever country they are caught in.
"The consequence is never worth the risk - border and enforcement agencies will act according to their laws."
Many of Customs' successes were based on information from concerned family or friends - and Wagner asked people to report any suspicious cases to 0800 4 CUSTOMS in confidence.