Indiana Woman Sentenced to Federal Prison for Victimizing 96-Year-Old Rhode Islander Through an Online Romance Scam
PROVIDENCE, RI – A Rhode Island man admitted in federal court on Monday to participating in an international telemarking scam operating out of Jamaica that primarily targets and victimizes elderly U.S. citizens. The scam leads victims, who are contacted by telephone, to believe they have won cash or prizes in a lottery or sweepstakes. However, they are told their winnings will not be released to them without upfront payment of taxes or fees.
Appearing before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith, Shawn Whitfield, 48, of Pawtucket, R.I., admitted to receiving $109,675 in upfront payments from individuals who had been victimized by the scam from April 2015 to February 2018. The majority of funds collected by Whitfield were transferred electronically to co-conspirators and others, often times to individuals in Jamaica.
At least 20 of the individuals who sent money to Whitfield via United States Postal packages, money grams, and Western Union wire transfers, were over the age of 55. Among the payments sent to Whitfield was a check for $25,000.
Whitfield pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud, announced United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman and Joseph W. Cronin, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Boston Division.
“Telemarketing fraudsters have only one mission, to con people out of their money. Often times, the elderly are their most targeted victims,” noted United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman. “The Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, among other things, coordinates the investigation and prosecution of financial scammers that target older Americans. Unscrupulous individuals like Mr. Whitfield will be held accountable for their actions.”
“Almost anyone under the right circumstances can fall for a phony offer or promotion, however, older Americans are usually more susceptible than others,” said Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division. “Scammers like Whitfield lure victims in with promises of large financial winnings that are hard to turn down. The financial devastation some victims face is irreversible. Postal Inspectors here in Rhode Island and across the country are working hard to prevent others from falling victim to scams like these.”
USPIS agents, assisted by members of the Pawtucket Police Department, Rhode Island State Police, and the U.S. Marshals Service, executed a court-authorized search of Whitfield’s residence on February 20, 2018. Simultaneously, Whitfield was arrested at his place of employment in Norwood, Mass., by USPIS agents, with the assistance of members of the Norwood Police Department.
Whitfield is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith on September 27, 2019.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise M. Barton, Elder Justice Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island.
If you are a victim or know a victim of elder fraud, you can call 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to ftc.gov/complaint. For downloadable Elder Abuse Prevention resources and for information about community outreach programs in Rhode Island, visit the United States Attorney’s Office’s Elder Justice Initiative web page at https://www.justice.gov/usao-ri/elder-justice