U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California Takes Part in Department’s Wide-Ranging Efforts to Protect Older Adults
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
Assistant U. S. Attorney Oleksandra Johnson (619) 546-9769
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 4, 2022
San Diego, CA – The Justice Department announced today the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation.
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. Today, the Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating overseas.
“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.”
“The Southern District of California is proud to take part in the Justice Department’s efforts to combat elder fraud by joining the expanded Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Our office is committed to investigating elder fraud and bringing to justice those who target seniors.”
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 Southern District of California successfully pursued cases affecting seniors in our district and nationwide. With the help of Consumer Protection Branch and the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force, our office indicted and is prosecuting United States v. Knowles et al., 21cr2216-CAB, a nationwide Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) conspiracy involving a “grandparent scam” where elderly victims were convinced, over the phone, that their loved ones were in jail and needed money to cover bail.
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. The criminals engaged in extortion and fraud to swindle about $2 million from more than 70 victims across the nation. Ten elderly victims who resided in San Diego County lost over $300,000 to the fraud. Of the eight charged individuals, six have been arrested and pleaded guilty. Three of the convicted defendants were sentenced to 108 months, 46 months, and 24 months in prison for their roles in the criminal enterprise. In sentencing one of the defendants, the federal judge described the scheme as “heartbreakingly evil.” Three remaining defendants are set to be sentenced on November 17, 2022.
In another case prosecuted by our office, United States v. Phimmasone, 21cr3262-LL, the defendant admitted to embezzling over $350,000 from a local company that provided in-home care services for mostly elderly individuals. The sentencing hearing is set for November 14, 2022.
But prevention is just as important as prosecution. We continually reach out to community groups and stakeholders to raise awareness of red flags and increase reporting of suspicious behavior. In October 2021, our office conducted virtual training on common elder scams and fraud against seniors for residents of the White Sands La Jolla Senior Living Community. In August 2022, we presented information about recent fraudulent schemes and preventing victimization at the Senior Wellness Community Event held at One Safe Place, The North County Family Justice Center.
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 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.
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: 1-833-FRAUD-11 or 833-372-8311.
This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professional 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 today’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.
Updated October 4, 2022