HOUSTON -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, along with representatives of the Houston Airport System, are warning passengers about a scam that has successfully targeted several Houston-area families who have relatives outside of the U.S.
Scammers are targeting Hispanic families by telephone, claiming to be a long-lost relative. They say they are stuck in Customs at Bush Airport and need $1,000 to $1,500 to be allowed into the country. Sometimes the scammers even claim to be with Customs and Border Protection, or an attorney representing the relative, and stress that the money needs to be wired immediately, or the person will not be allowed into the country.
“Turns out that it’s a scam,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Tomas Gonzalez. He says some people have even turned up at Terminal E at Bush Airport looking for that fictitious relative.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, personally I’ve encountered people out here right outside our area looking for someone, looking for a family member,” said Gonzalez. “As a matter of fact, it happened two weeks ago.”
The scam is a common ploy in Mexico, sometimes with the scammers getting the exact name of a real relative. Some of the calls there have been traced to Mexican prisons. But at Bush Airport officials say the number of victims so far is relatively small.
“The fact that it is a small number gives us the impetus we need to get right on top of this so that we can have as few people victimized as possible, and see if we can’t get this stopped as soon as possible,” said Houston Airport System spokesperson Mark Bull.
And Customs and Border Protection agents ask any victims to fight through the embarrassment of being duped and call them or Houston police right away.
“Well the thing is, it needs to be reported, embarrassment or not, because it’s happening,” said Gonzalez. “And the only way scams continue is when they’re successful. And they are successful,” he said of the airport shakedown.
“Call us. Call them,” he said of Houston police. “Call them. Let somebody know you just got scammed.”
CBP agents say there is even another layer to the scam. People who have ordered an animal/pet online sometimes get the same scam phone call. A caller, likely a fictitious pet dealer who placed the fake ad online, claims the pet is stuck in customs and that wiring another few hundred dollars will get the animal released.
So on Monday police re-issued a common warning – that you should never wire money to someone you don’t know.
You can contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection at 281-223-4200.