CHARLOTTE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Dena J. King joins the Justice Department in announcing today the results of the Department’s efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, 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.”
“Financial predators view older adults as a target rich environment,” said U.S. Attorney King.
“The increased presence of elderly individuals online offers ample opportunities for fraudsters to perpetrate financial scams on older victims and steal their hard-earned money. Investigating and prosecuting bad actors who engage in the financial exploitation of older Americans is a priority for my office. I also urge older adults, family members, and caretakers to be on the lookout for schemes targeting the elderly. Prevention and education is the best way to ensure older adults are protected from this appalling criminal activity. Reporting financial scams is equally important. If you are the victim of a scam or suspect an older individual is being financially victimized take action and report the fraud,” King added.
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. During that time frame, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina has taken federal action through the filing of criminal or civil cases involving financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors.
In August 2022, a Liberian national was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in an online romance scam that targeted older adults. In June 2022, a home health provider was ordered to serve 45 months in prison for stealing more than $1 million from two elderly clients. In March 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the successful forfeiture and return of stolen cryptocurrency to an elderly individual victimized by a government imposter scam. Additionally, in May 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained a final forfeiture order for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, which will be returned to an elderly victim of a romance/investment scheme. Furthermore, in December 2021, the Court ordered the forfeiture of a property purchased with the fraud proceeds perpetrated by the purported caregivers of an elderly victim. In addition to securing prison sentences for the perpetrators of the fraud, the Justice Department agreed to return the forfeited assets to the victim’s estate.
As part of its efforts to stem the tide of elder financial fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to engage in outreach to the community to raise awareness about financial scams. Last week, U.S. Attorney King hosted a scam alert seminar at the Rutherford County Senior Center, during which participants were presented important information about financial fraud. Following the presentation, the participants engaged in a game of “Fraud Bingo,” a fun activity designed to deliver information and practical tips on how to prevent the financial exploitation and victimization of older adults by scammers.
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.
Over the past year, the Department pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “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 that 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 “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is 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: 1-866 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals 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.