Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force
The Strike Force was created in 2019 and expanded in 2022 by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. The Strike Force is comprised of attorneys and analysts from the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and 20 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including all the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the states of Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Texas. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Homeland Security Investigations provide dedicated resources for identifying the most harmful elder fraud schemes and bringing perpetrators to justice. Special agents from the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also conduct Strike Force investigations.
The Strike Force benefits from a number of public and private partners, including:
- Staff of the Federal Trade Commission, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Federal Communications Commission, and other civil enforcement and regulatory agencies, who help to identify infrastructure used by transnational fraud schemes;
- Industry representatives from the telecom, banking, tech, and retail sectors, who identify those who use of their products, services, and platforms to commit elder fraud and prevent them from further defrauding victims;
- Foreign law enforcement partners, who share in the Strike Force’s mission and work collaboratively to halt all manner of international mass marketing fraud; and
- Elder Justice Coordinators assigned in every U.S. Attorney’s Office across the nation, whose skill and expertise in prosecuting elder fraud has prevented incalculable losses to U.S. seniors.
Data analysis and public-private information sharing have revealed Significant Transnational Fraud Schemes and New Trends in Transnational Elder Fraud.
The Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force provides the following information to warn the public about significant current elder fraud threats. To provide uniform reporting of elder fraud incidences, individuals and entities combatting financial exploitation are encouraged to use the scheme names listed below in reporting suspected incidences of elder fraud:
Romance scams cause higher victim losses to American seniors than any other type of fraud. Millions of Americans use dating websites, social networking platforms, and chat rooms to meet people online. And many forge successful relationships. But scammers also can use these sites to find potential victims. Scammers can create fake profiles to build online relationships—or use other false pretenses—and eventually convince victims to send money, often to cover the cost of a purported emergency or unusual opportunity. Romance scams operating from abroad often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators. Sometimes, romance scammers convince victims to serve as money mules, using them to transmit illegal criminal proceeds from other victims to the scams’ perpetrators.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
Government Imposter Fraud
Government imposter fraud causes the second-highest losses to seniors. For example, Social Security Administration imposters contact prospective victims by telephone and falsely claim that the victim’s Social Security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity or involvement in a crime. The imposters then ask to confirm the victim’s Social Security number, or they may say that they need to withdraw money from the victim’s bank and to store it on gift cards or in other unusual ways for “safekeeping.” Victims may be told their accounts will be seized or frozen if they fail to act quickly.
Perpetrators often use robocalls to reach prospective victims. Victims may be told to “press 1” to speak to a government “support representative” for help reactivating their Social Security number. Scammers also often use caller ID spoofing to make it look like the actual Social Security Administration is calling. With such trickery, perpetrators routinely convince victims to give up their Social Security numbers and other personal information. Social Security Administration imposters operating from abroad often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to scheme perpetrators.
Although Social Security Administration imposter frauds currently is the most prevalent government imposter fraud, fraudsters impersonate any number of government agencies, including the IRS, FBI, DEA, and Medicare. Regardless of the agency fraudsters choose to impersonate, the core fraud remains the same: victims are told that they need to share personal information or send money urgently, at times in unconventional ways such as through gift cards or virtual currency.
Fraudsters based in Jamaica and other countries call thousands of people in the U.S. every day, telling them that they have won a sweepstakes or lottery. The fraudulent telemarketers typically identify themselves as lawyers, customs officials, or lottery representatives, and they tell prospective victims that the victims have won vacations, cars, or large sums of money. “Winners” are then falsely told that they need only pay fees for purported shipping, insurance, customs duties, or taxes before they can claim their prizes. Victims often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars and receive nothing in return, and many are revictimized until they have no money left. Lottery frauds operating from abroad often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators.
In tech-support fraud schemes, fraudsters make telephone calls and claim to be computer technicians associated with well-known companies or they use internet pop-up messages to warn about non-existent computer or account problems. Scammers involved in the schemes claim they have detected viruses, other malware, or hacking attempts on the victim’s computer or associated with the victim’s account. They then pretend to offer “tech support” and ask that the victim give them remote access to his or her computer. Eventually, the fraudster will diagnose a non-existent problem and ask the victim to pay large sums of money for unnecessary – or even harmful – services. Tech-support frauds operating from abroad often use U.S.-based money mules (including legitimate-seeming businesses registered in the U.S.) to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators.
After victims make payments to a tech-support scam, perpetrators often call back and offer refunds to the victims, claiming their tech-support services are no longer available. Perpetrators then will claim to send refund money to the victim’s bank account but falsely claim that too much money was refunded. Perpetrators then induce victims to send payments (often through stored-value cards such as gift cards), purportedly to reimburse the tech-support company for its “over-refund.” Victims lose hundreds or thousands of dollars to such refund schemes.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
Grandparent Scam or Person-in-Need Scam
Also known as “Family Emergency Fraud,” these scams begin when perpetrators impersonate a relative of the victim, or someone supposedly reaching out on a family member’s behalf, and claim that an urgent situation has arisen. The emergency often involves a relative’s purported arrest or injury in a foreign location and a need for immediate receipt of money. Victims typically are instructed to pay via cash, bank wire transfer, or prepaid gift cards. Perpetrators often tell victims that they cannot share the news about their family member with anyone, at times because the purported criminal case is under a “gag order.” These schemes operate from abroad and often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments – sometimes in-person, by posing as a bail bond agent - and transmit proceeds to perpetrators.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
Many of the transnational fraud schemes described above rely on money mules to get money from victims’ pockets into fraudsters’ accounts. Money mules are people who, at someone else’s direction, receive and move money obtained from victims of fraud. Click here to learn more about money mule activity and how it fuels fraud.
In addition to the significant transnational elder fraud scams identified above, the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force has identified a recent emerging threat in phishing schemes, described below:
With increasing frequency, fraudsters are turning to spam text messages or emails to lure victims into divulging personally identifying information, which can then be used by the fraudsters to commit identify theft. Many of these messages purport to be from well-known retailers, delivery services, financial institutions, utility companies, or government agencies. The text messages or emails often contain a link, which take the message recipients to webpages designed to unlawfully capture personally identifying information. The sites sometimes infect victims’ computers with computer viruses and malware.
In one trending example, the Department of Justice has received reports that fraudsters are creating websites mimicking government unemployment benefit websites, including state workforce agency websites, and unlawfully capturing consumers’ sensitive personal information. To lure people to these websites, fraudsters are sending spam text messages and emails purporting to be from a state workforce agency and containing a link. Consumers especially should avoid clicking on such links send by text messages, as actual state workforce agencies will not contact consumers by text message in an unsolicited manner.