Justice Department Coordinates Nationwide Elder Fraud Sweep of More Than 250 Defendants
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced today the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history. The cases involve more than two hundred and fifty defendants from around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly. The cases include criminal, civil, and forfeiture actions across more than 50 federal districts. Of the defendants, 200 were charged criminally. In each case, offenders engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused losses of more than half a billion dollars. The Department coordinated its actions with state Attorneys General, who independently filed numerous cases targeting elder frauds within the sweep period.
Attorney General Sessions was joined in the announcement by FBI Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich; Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell; FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen; and Kansas Attorney General and President of the National Association of Attorneys General Derek Schmidt.
“The Justice Department and its partners are taking unprecedented, coordinated action to protect elderly Americans from financial threats, both foreign and domestic,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are. When criminals steal the hard-earned life savings of older Americans, we will respond with all the tools at the Department’s disposal – criminal prosecutions to punish offenders, civil injunctions to shut the schemes down, and asset forfeiture to take back ill-gotten gains. Today is only the beginning. I have directed Department prosecutors to coordinate with both domestic law enforcement partners and foreign counterparts to stop these criminals from exploiting our seniors.”
The actions charged a variety of fraud schemes, ranging from mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds to individual incidences of identity theft and theft by guardians. A number of cases involved transnational criminal organizations that defrauded hundreds of thousands of elderly victims, while others involved a single relative or fiduciary who took advantage of an individual victim. The schemes charged in these cases caused losses to more than a million victims.
In the Northern District of Iowa, these prosecutions are part of the Elder Justice Initiative of the Department of Justice. In June 2016, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa was selected as one of 10 districts in the nation to form an Elder Justice Task Force (http://go.usa.gov/cSngj). The task force was assembled to foster a collaborative working relationship among all levels of government officials, advocacy groups for the elderly and the disabled, and others charged with the care and protection for these vulnerable groups. The goals include ensuring the integrity of all government expenditures by eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse in health programs, and protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens from harm, whether it occurs in nursing homes or other institutions or involves financial fraud schemes. To learn more about the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, visit: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/.
Actions against the Mass-mailing Fraud Industry
As part of the initiative, the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and others, brought numerous cases this past week in a coordinated strike against more than 43 mass-mailing fraud operators, including criminal charges against six individuals. In addition, law enforcement agents executed 13 premises search warrants from Las Vegas to south Florida, served numerous asset seizure warrants, and coordinated with the Vancouver Police, who executed over 20 warrants, including search warrants on business premises.
These recently filed cases particularly targeted transnational criminal actors who collectively defrauded at least a million victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, just one of the schemes prosecuted criminally by the Consumer Protection Branch operated from 14 foreign countries to cost American victims more than $30 million.
Mass-mailing fraud inflicts hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to elderly U.S. victims each year. Department prosecutors and U.S. Postal Inspectors have taken a comprehensive approach to combatting this fraud, disrupting and prosecuting individuals who manage the schemes, artists who draft the fraudulent solicitations, list brokers who supply victim lists, and individuals who collect victim payments.
Actions against other elder fraud schemes
Prosecutors across the country have heeded the call to focus resources on elder fraud cases. Over 50 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department Components filed elder fraud cases in the last year. Some examples of the elder financial exploitation prosecuted by the Department include:
- “Lottery phone scams,” in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
- “Grandparent scams,” which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
- “Romance scams,” which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
- “IRS imposter schemes,” which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes;
- “Guardianship schemes,” which siphon seniors’ financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians.
Many of these cases illustrate how an elderly American can lose his or her life savings to a duplicitous relative, guardian, or stranger who gains the victim’s trust. The devastating effects these cases have on victims and their families, both financially and psychologically, make prosecuting elder fraud a key Department priority.
For example, over the last year, 11 people were charged in the Northern District of Iowa for their involvement in a scheme to defraud elderly victims across the country. Of the 11, 10 defendants have plead guilty to participating in the scheme. Each of them admitted that while they never made calls to victims, other individuals involved in the scheme called victims on the phone and told these victims that a relative was in jail. The caller would then ask the victims to wire money via Western Union or Money Gram to get the relative released. The money was being wired to various participants in the fraud who would pick up the wire transfers. Each of the 10 defendants who have plead guilty were participants in and around Dubuque who received wire transfers from the victims. The proceeds of the fraud were then sent via wire transfer to other participants of the scheme often located in the Dominican Republic. During the course of the scheme, approximately $800,000 was stolen from victims. Court file information is at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. The case file numbers are 17-CR-1001 and 17-CR-1004.
“Every day, criminals shamelessly prey upon some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society by exploiting their generosity,” said United States Attorney Peter E. Deegan, Jr. “When we can prosecute those responsible for defrauding and stealing from the elderly, we will do so.”
The Department has partnered with Senior Corps, a branch of the Corporation for National and Community Service, to educate seniors and prevent further victimization. Senior Corps coordinates a network of senior volunteers, including:
- 245,000 affiliated volunteers,
- 840,000 elderly individuals in need served, and
- 332,100 veterans served.
These volunteers will communicate what law enforcement has learned about elder fraud to potential victims across the country. Senior volunteers will use their skills, knowledge and experience to educate their peers and caregivers about the most prolific types of schemes and how to avoid them.
Coordination with state officials
Kansas Attorney General Schmidt highlighted the cases filed by state Attorneys General targeting elder frauds within in the sweep period, and he emphasized efforts at the state level to combat elder abuse and protect seniors from fraud and exploitation. He encouraged all of the state Attorneys General to devote enforcement and public education resources to preventing financial exploitation of senior citizens.
Coordination with foreign law enforcement
Exceptional assistance from foreign law enforcement partners amplified the effectiveness of the Department’s initiative. The sweep announced today benefited greatly from the work of the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG), a network of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Europol, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The IMMFWG is co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Justice and FTC, and law enforcement in the United Kingdom, and serves as a model for international cooperation against specific threats that endanger the financial well-being of each member country’s residents. Attorney General Sessions expressed gratitude for the outstanding efforts of the working group, including law enforcement action taken as part of the sweep by the Vancouver Police Department in Canada to halt mass mailing schemes that defrauded hundreds of thousands of elderly victims worldwide.
Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime, which can be reached at www.ovc.gov.
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