Unorganized Crime: Elder Trackers and Cocaine Cornflakes
Celebrity cellphone hacking, international human hair-smugglers, counterfeit Shiraz and “lucky charm” necklaces used to monitor the aging victims of a lottery scam — our Daily News team rings in the weekend with some of the strangest criminal cases from the past few days.
Most people might prefer to accompany their breakfast with a cup of coffee, but Customs and Border Patrol agents in Ohio discovered this week the makings of an altogether different, far more stimulating version of the most important meal of the day.
Officials in Cincinnati seized a package containing a shipment of cornflakes frosted not with sugar, but 44 pounds of high-quality Peruvian cocaine. The consignment was reportedly en route to a private residence in Hong Kong when it was intercepted by the authorities.
Just a few days later, police in the United Kingdom seized more than two tons of the drug — one of the country’s largest ever single busts, valued at around £184 million (US$255 million) —concealed in an incoming shipment of bananas from Colombia.
Authorities later apprehended ten men allegedly connected with the scheme at two separate industrial estates in Tottenham, North London.
Also in the United Kingdom, authorities in both England and Scotland have arrested eight men accused of hacking into the phones of international sports stars, musicians and social media influencers.
The practice of “sim-swapping,” which allows hackers to take over another person’s phone by deactivating the victims sim card and transferring the number to another device, is reportedly often facilitated by “corrupt insiders” at mobile phone service providers.
This often gives scammers access to online banking, as well as other apps containing sensitive information that can be traded for profit.
Police declined to identify which celebrities had been targeted by the conspiracy, which the accused allegedly coordinated with the help of actors from several other European countries, although press have reported that the estimated damages may have exceeded $100 million.
Meanwhile, Chinese gangs are thought to have flooded convenience stores across the U.K. with counterfeit wine, specifically fake bottles of the Australian Yellow Tail brand.
A trading standards authority told media that the knock-off alcohol, which includes bottles of Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, threatened to do significant damage to the brand’s credibility if consumers were put off buying its products as a result.
Across the channel, Spain’s Guardia Civil has busted three sisters accused of not only selling bogus lottery tickets to elderly citizens, but also ‘gifting’ them “lucky charm” necklaces that turned out to contain a microphone and geo-locator device.
The sisters would allegedly use the necklaces to monitor victims’ conversations so as to ensure that their scam had not been detected. They were reportedly able to steal more than 31,000 euros ($37,500) in cash before they were eventually apprehended by the authorities.
Over in India, the government has sanctioned a crackdown on criminal networks implicated in the large-scale smuggling of human hair into China and Myanmar.
Perpetrators reportedly under-invoice shipments so as to escape scrutiny associated with compliance and income tax measures, while the recipients in Myanmar are thought to utilise child labour in sorting through the unprocessed hair, presumably for the manufacture of wigs.