DOJ Observes 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Today, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“As our nation and its elders continue to meet the challenges of this pandemic, we are doing everything in our power to identify and prosecute the fraudsters who try to exploit our seniors,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud remains one of our top priorities, and we continue to fight for justice in these important cases.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Department will aggressively prosecute fraudsters exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fake help obtaining stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program Funds. To identify and combat this fraud, the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia joined federal and state law enforcement partners in March 2020 to form the Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force. The task force reviews and investigates all credible leads of fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on schemes to exploit vulnerable populations, including the elderly. The task force has also prioritized outreach to enable seniors to identify and guard against fraud schemes during the pandemic. On this day dedicated to recognizing our seniors, the Department of Justice sends a strong message that we continue the fight to keep seniors safe a top priority.
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities. Over the last year, the Eastern District of Virginia has brought federal charges in eight cases of elder fraud, including the following transnational schemes:
- U.S. v. Choksi, et al., 3:19-CR-160 - Choksi and his wife, Majmudar, served as money mules for Indian call centers that impersonated law enforcement officials to trick and coerce victims into mailing cash by convincing the victims that it was in their best interests to do so. The scheme generally started with “robocalls”, designed to create a sense of urgency with unsuspecting recipients. Callers told recipients that they had some sort of serious legal problem, and that if they did not immediately take a particular action, then there would be drastic consequences, including arrest, significant financial penalties, or cessation of government benefits. The fraudsters told recipients that, to prevent these dire consequences, the recipients must pay money, by wire transfer or cash, to some purported government entity. The conspiracy operated cells in multiple states, including New Jersey, California, Indiana, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota.
- U.S. v. Anikkhan Yusufkhan Pathan, 1:20-CR-20 - Pathan served as a money mule for Indian call centers that contacted victims by phone and, through various schemes, induced them to send money by wire transfers to various aliases. The schemes included variants of loan fraud, through which conspirators promised new loans and/or loan consolidation. Once victims provided their bank information, conspirators deposited worthless checks and directed victims to immediately withdraw the credited funds and wire them to a separate account. Conspirators also contacted victims through mass mailings and, posing as the victims’ true mortgage lenders, directed victims to begin making their mortgage payments to accounts controlled by conspirators. Finally, conspirators contacted victims by phone and, posing as employees of Microsoft, advised victims that their computers contained fatal viruses that would cause irreparable harm if victims did not immediately remit payment for repair.
- U.S. v. William Onyebuchi Ogbonna, 2:19-CR-84 - Between October 2016 and March 2019, Ogbonna participated in a conspiracy to defraud between 80 and 100 elderly U.S. victims. To facilitate this scheme, conspirators contacted victims and falsely claimed that the victims were due a large inheritance or had won a foreign lottery. Conspirators told victims they would receive large sums in return for up-front payments of the associated taxes and fees. Conspirators also perpetrated business email compromise scams by compromising business emails and then contacting business clients and employees and requesting a transfer of funds. In all cases, conspirators directed victims to wire money to various bank accounts, including accounts opened by Ogbonna. After receiving these proceeds, Ogbonna transferred a portion of those proceeds via cashier’s checks and wires to conspirators in China and Nigeria.
- United States v. Nena Kerny Kochuga, 2:19-cr-22 - Kochuga executed a Jamaican lottery scheme that targeted elderly victims, who she and conspirators would contact by phone. Kochuga told victims that they had won the lottery and were required to pay purported taxes and fees to claim the winnings. She directed victims to mail and wire money to her residential and post office box addresses in Virginia. Kochuga then sent money to conspirators in Jamaica and Ghana via Western Union wire transfers, keeping a portion for herself. Through this conduct, Kochuga and her conspirators defrauded numerous victims of at least $50,000. According to local media coverage, Kochuga has targeted elderly victims with similar lottery scams for most of the past decade. In September 2019, Kochuga was sentenced to over two years in prison and ordered to pay over $64,000 in restitution to her victims.
Reflecting its commitment to prioritizing cases involving the elderly, the Department has taken the following actions:
- National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate services.
- Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.
- Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors. The Eastern District of Virginia ranked fourth nationally in the number of criminal cases charged during this sweep after charging 16 defendants in 8 separate cases.
- Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year. The Eastern District of Virginia brought two criminal cases against money mules who knowingly received elderly victims funds as part of large-scale Indian call center cases.
- Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting our elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams. Through the above criminal actions, the Eastern District of Virginia has identified and continues to pursue justice against the overseas actors responsible for targeting and deceiving elders.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.