EDVA Takes Part in Department’s Wide-Ranging Efforts to Protect Older Adults
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The Justice Department announced yesterday the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the Department and its law enforcement partners tackled matters that ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts were also made over the last year to return money to fraud victims. yesterday, the Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating overseas.
“EDVA is committed to pursuing justice on behalf of vulnerable members of our community, especially those impacted by elder fraud schemes,” said Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Criminals who prey on the elderly and rob innocent victims of their lifelong savings and hard-earned retirement funds leave devastating emotional and financial trauma. This office will continue to work closely with our partners to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute perpetrators of these harmful scams.”
“We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorneys’ offices participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”
During the period from September 2021 to September 2022, Department personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.
This past year, the Eastern District of Virginia has continued to pursue justice for elders in a wide range of cases, including:
- U.S. v. Mable Jones, 3:21-cr-30 - The former owner of a Richmond-based assisted living facility that served primarily elderly and incapacitated adults was sentenced to 2 years in prison for health care fraud after diverting over $800,000 in federal and state benefits that were intended to pay for the care of the facility’s residents. Jones used the residents’ benefits to satisfy her personal debts, including her mortgage and bankruptcy payments, and to fund her personal travel, retail purchases, and gambling expenses, including at casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Jones’s diversion of resident benefits led to significant and persistent deficiencies in the facilities, care, and services provided to her facility’s residents, including deficiencies that endangered residents’ health and safety.
- U.S. v. Bank et al, 2:19-cr-47 - The defendants executed a nationwide investment scheme involving fraudulent wireless spectrum and dental franchise investments. The scheme, operated out of California, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, and Hampton Roads, among other locations across the country, deceived hundreds of unsuspecting investors, most of whom were at or near retirement age. As a result of this investment fraud scheme, the victims suffered losses in excess of $20 million. Ten defendants were prosecuted and sentenced to terms ranging from 5 to 35 years.
- U.S. v. Prasad, 1:22-cr-40 - The defendant conspired with several other individuals primarily based at a call center in India to carry out a tech support scheme that affected mostly elderly victims. From April 2016 through September 2021, more than 1,300 individuals were defrauded. The victims suffered losses totaling more than $1.6 million. The defendant was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment.
- U.S. v. Garuba, 1:20-cr-201 - The defendant engaged in financial transactions with illegal proceeds as part of a romance fraud scheme against mostly elderly victims. He received large wire transfers from a number of senior citizens living throughout the United States who were duped into believing that they were sending money at the request of and for the benefit of romantic partners they met through online dating sites. In total, Garuba transferred approximately 15% of the nearly $2.9 million that the fraudsters obtained from the victims. The defendant was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment.
As part of the Eastern District of Virginia’s elder fraud efforts, it engages in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. This year, our District provided training on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting romance scams to state and local law enforcement and social services partners to help combat and prevent affinity frauds.
The Department also highlighted three other efforts: expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams.
The Department announced that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice it is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat the largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.
In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission payments. Notifications were made to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the Department and were later victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return for a fee. More than 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 million, and thousands more are eligible to receive checks. Also notified were consumers who paid fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. In the past year, the Department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March of 2020 more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million as a result of a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its aiding and abetting of wire fraud.
Over the past year, the Department pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scams.” These scams typically begin when a fraudster, often based overseas, contacts an older adult and poses as either a grandchild, other family member or someone calling on behalf of a family member. Call recipients are told that their family member is in jeopardy and is urgently in need of money. When recently sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal judge described such scams as “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes.
Reporting from consumers about fraud and fraud attempts is critical to law enforcements efforts to investigate and prosecute schemes targeting older adults. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-866 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting or connect them with agencies, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.[ET]. English, Spanish, and other languages are available. More information about the Department’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.
Some of the cases that comprise yesterday’s announcement are charges, which are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.