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Monday, September 15, 2014

Owner of Costa Rican Call Center Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Elderly Through Sweepstakes Scam

A dual United States-Costa Rican citizen pleaded guilty today for his role in a $1.88 million sweepstakes fraud scheme that defrauded hundreds of elderly Americans.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of the Western District of North Carolina made the announcement.

Geoffrey Alexander Ramer, 34, of Costa Rica, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer of the Western District of North Carolina to wire fraud and money laundering in connection with the telemarketing fraud scheme. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.

“Ramer preyed upon some of the most vulnerable members of our society, callously and repeatedly defrauding elderly Americans by stealing their life savings,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “We hope that today's guilty plea brings some solace to his victims. This prosecution sends a clear message to the next would-be con-artist: in protecting our citizens, the reach of the Justice Department will not stop at our country's borders.

“Ramer and his fellow con artists swindled their victims and pocketed people’s life savings,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.  “If conscience is not enough to deter scammers from taking advantage of the elderly and vulnerable, the certainty that justice is coming should.”

According to his plea agreement, from 2008 through December 2013, Ramer owned and operated call centers located in Costa Rica. Ramer and his co-conspirators called U.S. residents, many of whom were elderly, and falsely informed them that they had won a substantial cash prize in a sweepstakes. The victims were told that in order to receive the prize, they had to send money to Costa Rica for a purported refundable insurance fee. After receiving the fee, Ramer and his co-conspirators contacted the victims again, and falsely informed them that the prize amount had increased and, therefore, the victims had to send additional money to pay for new purported fees. These attempts to collect additional money continued until the victims ran out of money or discovered the fraud. To mask that they were calling from Costa Rica, Ramer and his co-conspirators utilized VoIP phones that displayed a (202) area code, giving victims the false impression the calls were coming from Washington, D.C. Ramer often falsely claimed to be calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency to lure victims into a false sense of security.

Plea documents state that, along with his co-conspirators, Ramer was responsible for causing more than $1.88 million in losses to hundreds of elderly Americans.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Donley and Trial Attorney William Bowne of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.


Updated September 15, 2014