SDTX takes part in wide-ranging efforts to protect older adults
HOUSTON - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation.
During the past year, DOJ 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 to return money to fraud victims. DOJ 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.”
“ ‘Respect your elders’ is one of the most fundamental principles we are taught,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.” Sadly, however, all too often we see our most vulnerable senior citizens fall victim to fraud and/or abuse. From call center scams to theft, my office has worked diligently to hold such scammers accountable. We will continue these efforts as part of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force with the hope we can preserve the dignity of our beloved aging community.”
From September 2021 to September 2022, DOJ personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged. The matters DOJ tackled ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. There were also substantial efforts over the last year to return money to fraud victims.
In the Southern District of Texas (SDTX) over the past year, federal grand juries returned indictments in 10 cases involving more than 15 defendants. Loss amounts totaled approximately $38 million from elderly victims throughout the district.
As part of its elder fraud efforts, the SDTX also engages in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. For example, the SDTX conducted a podcast in conjunction with AARP and FBI in Spanish for elderly citizens in our communities. Additional Podcasts are planned this year.
DOJ 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.
DOJ 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 DOJ’s ongoing efforts to combat largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.
In the past year, DOJ 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 DOJ prosecuted 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, DOJ has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March 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, DOJ also pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” AKA “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 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.” DOJ is also 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: 1-833-FRAUD-11 or 833-372-8311. The Office for Victims of Crime manages the DOJ hotline. Experienced professionals 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 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET. English, Spanish and other languages are available. More information about DOJ’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website.
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.