HARRISBURG – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is promoting the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative throughout the Middle District, announced U.S. Attorney David J. Freed. On January 28, 2020, the Middle District partnered with the FBI and AARP to raise awareness and to educate older adults about the latest scams so they do not fall victim. Over 9,500 seniors in Pennsylvania participated in an interactive telephone town hall as part of the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative. U.S. Attorney Freed and representatives from FBI and AARP conducted the town hall.
Scammers are targeting seniors at an alarming rate. Statistics collected by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center show that victims of all ages lost over $2.7 billion dollars to fraud in 2018, with victims over the age of 60 accounting for $649,227,724 of those losses. According to the same statistics, in Pennsylvania, over 10,500 people lost more than $62 million dollars, putting Pennsylvania in the top ten states by number of victims.
The DOJ Elder Justice Initiative aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educating older adults on how to identify scams and avoid getting ripped off by scammers; and promoting greater coordination with law enforcement partners.
Some examples of financial frauds targeting seniors discussed during the town hall were:
- Social Security impostor schemes: defraud victims by posing as Social Security Administration agent and claiming that there is an issue with the victims’ account;
- IRS impostor schemes: defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes;
- Lottery phone scams: callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
- Romance scams: lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
- Grandparent scams: convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
- Tech support scams: scammers offer assistance with viruses or malware they claim were detected on the victim’s computer; and
- Grant scams: scammers congratulate you on your eligibility to receive a free grant to pay for education costs, home repairs, unpaid bills, etc., then ask for your checking account information so they can deposit your grant directly into your account or cover a one-time processing fee.
Below are some tips shared with participants during the town hall on how to avoid falling victim to a financial scam:
- Don’t share personal information with anyone you don’t know.
- Don’t pay a fee for a prize or lottery winning.
- Don’t click on pop-up ads or messages.
- Don’t send gift cards, checks, money orders, wire money, or give your bank account information to a stranger.
- Don’t fall for a high-pressure sales pitch or a lucrative business deal.
- Delete phishing emails and ignore harassing phone calls.
- If a scammer approaches you, take the time to talk to a friend or family member.
- Keep in mind that if you send money once, you’ll be a target for life.
- Remember, it’s not rude to say, “NO.”
- A good rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.
Attacking exploitation and fighting fraud are two priorities of the Middle District, and the U.S. Attorney’s office is committed to aggressively pursuing individuals who engage in such acts. Some recent prosecutions include:
The Middle District of Pennsylvania charged Omoefe Okoro, a citizen of Canada, and others for allegedly engaging in an attorney “collection scam” in Ontario, Canada, and the United States. In particular, Okoro and his co-conspirators are alleged to have conducted a scheme in which they contacted businesses and individuals, including elderly victims, and requested, among other things, to collect an outstanding debt. The suspects, posing as the third party, then sent a counterfeit check to the victim for deposit and requested that the victim wire funds to an account overseas, typically in Japan, South Korea, or China. Canada surrendered Okoro to the United States and he is currently scheduled for trial on March 2, 2020.
The Middle District also prosecuted Jenmariey Burchell, a 26-year-old Jamaican citizen for her part in a scheme to defraud senior citizens that were falsely told they had won multi-million dollar international sweepstakes prizes. The purported winners were directed to send Western Union and MoneyGram money transfers, money orders and checks to persons known as “money mules,” ostensibly to pre-pay taxes and other fictitious expenses, in order to collect the non-existent cash prizes. Burchell enlisted the “money mules” to receive and transfer the fraud proceeds to him and other conspirators in Jamaica. Burchell ultimately received a sentence of 51 months’ imprisonment on November 12, 2019.
The Department of Justice announced first-of-its-kind steps yesterday, to stop hundreds of millions of predatory robocalls every month from entering the United States to perpetrate costly imposter scams against Americans, including many older victims. The civil actions are aimed at shutting down firms in Long Island, New York, and Scottsdale, Arizona, that provide internet services and act as “gateway carriers” for calls from overseas, mostly from India. The actions come after Americans in 2019 endured a record-shattering 58.5 billion robocalls, of which 25.9 billion were scams.
Elder abuse includes physical abuse, caregiver neglect, financial exploitation, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and abandonment. For help, you can contact the Victim Connect Hotline between 9am-6pm, Monday through Friday, at: 1-855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846) or contact the FBI Internet Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or 1-800-Call FBI. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftc.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. You may also contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network free helpline at 1-877-908-3360 to report a scam.
For more information about the Elder Justice Initiative, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice. To get tips to avoid scams and fraud text FWN to 50757 to receive biweekly alerts from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.
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