Justice Department Announces Largest Ever Nationwide Elder Fraud Sweep
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI Announce the Western District’s Elder Justice Initiative to Combat Financial Schemes Targeting Older Adults
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Attorney General William P. Barr and U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep. The cases brought during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly.
“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But thanks to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, as well as our state and local partners, the Department of Justice is protecting our seniors from fraud. The Trump administration has placed a renewed focus on prosecuting those who prey on the elderly, and the results of today’s sweep make that clear. Today we are announcing the largest single law enforcement action against elder fraud in American history. This year’s sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, 28 percent more in losses, and twice the number of fraud victims as last year’s sweep. I want to thank the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which led this effort, together with the Department’s Criminal Division, the more than 50 U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and the state and local partners who helped to make these results possible. Together, we are bringing justice and peace of mind to America’s seniors.”
The Department of Justice took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts. In each case, offenders allegedly engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused alleged losses of millions more dollars than last year, putting the total alleged losses at this year’s sweep at over three fourths of one billion dollars.
In the Western District of North Carolina, a federal criminal indictment was unsealed, charging Mark C. Ramsey, 49, of Asheville, N.C., with securities fraud, for allegedly defrauding dozens of victim investors, many of whom were at or near retirement age, of more than $1.4 million. As alleged in the indictment, Ramsey induced victims to part with their money by falsely assuring them his investments were “safe” and would yield “guaranteed” returns. Instead of investing the victims’ money as promised, the indictment alleges that Ramsey used it to make Ponzi-style payments to other investors, and to fund his personal lifestyle, including to take multiple trips to casinos in Las Vegas.
The charges against Ramsey are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The Elder Justice Initiative
Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI announced the Western District’s Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid getting ripped off by scammers; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners.
“Scammers targeting seniors are a growing concern in North Carolina. Tech support scams, lottery and sweepstakes fraud, IRS impersonators, grandparent scams, and sham business opportunities are common examples of financial schemes that victimize older Americans, leaving them in financial peril. We have a responsibility to protect our vulnerable older population from financial fraud and from scammers looking to get a hold of their money,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “That’s why we’ve partnered with the FBI to launch the Western District’s Elder Justice Initiative, to combat elder fraud and financial exploitation. Our goal is to increase federal criminal prosecutions and civil actions against wrong-doers and educate older adults on how to avoid becoming victims of scams. It’s time to take action and stop the fraud.”
“Years ago, our parents taught us not to talk to strangers. Their advice has proven to be timeless. Strangers are reaching out to us on social media, sending us emails, calling our homes and cell phones. If you fall for a scam, you can bet your life, they will call you again. They might have a different sales pitch or a different sob story, but they are the same crooks. They won’t stop until they get paid. Don’t be the person who pays them,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John Strong. “Let’s put these predators out of business for good. Don’t fall for fraud.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are also partnering with the AARP in North Carolina to conduct outreach and raise awareness through a series of seminars to educate seniors and prevent victimization.
The first seminar was held this morning in the format of a tele-town hall, during which more than one thousand seniors in North Carolina had an opportunity to participate in an interactive telephonic session and learn more about financial scams.
Some examples of financial fraud targeting seniors discussed during this morning’s seminar are:
- Lottery phone scams – in which the callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before they can receive lottery winnings.
- Grandparent scams – which convince seniors that their grandchildren are in trouble and need money to make rent, repair a car, or even money for bail.
- Romance scams – which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose.
- IRS imposter scams – which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes.
- Sham business opportunities – which convince victims to invest in lucrative business opportunities or investments.
Below are some tips shared with participants during the seminar 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.
- Delete phishing emails and ignore harassing phone calls.
- 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.
- 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’s too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.
For more information about the Elder Justice Initiative, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative.
To view our Public Service Announcement, please visit: https://youtu.be/qBGGAA7Mxbo
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. The Justice Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.