Frauds & Scams

Hundreds Charged In National Elder Fraud Sweep

February 23, 2018 • Karen DeMasters

The largest law enforcement sweep of elder fraud cases in the country, involving more than a million victims, was conducted Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.

The cases charge more than 250 defendants from around the world with various schemes in which victims, mostly elderly. lost more than $500 million.

The cases include criminal, civil and forfeiture actions across more than 50 federal districts, the attorney general said. Two hundred of the defendants were charged criminally.

The Department of Justice coordinated its announcement with the FTC and state attorneys general, who independently filed numerous cases targeting elder frauds.

The actions charged fraud schemes ranging from mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds to individual incidences of identity theft and theft by guardians. A number of cases involved transnational criminal organizations that defrauded hundreds of thousands of elderly victims, while others involved a single relative or fiduciary who took advantage of an individual victim, the announcement said.

“Winners. That’s what so many of the people who received these solicitations in the mail thought they were. But they’re not. They are victims of scams that postal inspectors have seen and investigated for decades. In fact, some of the same operators we encountered 20 years ago are back,” said Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell. Postal inspectors executed search warrants on 12 locations nationwide.

The sweep also involved more 43 mass-mailing fraud operators and search warrants for 14 premises from Las Vegas to south Florida, and 20 warrants issued in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The defendants targeted elderly and vulnerable consumers both in the United States and abroad, using U.S. addresses and the U.S. mails to try to legitimize their fraudulent schemes,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue. “They sold false promises of life-changing prizes that never came true.”

Some examples of the elder financial exploitation include lottery phone scams, in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings, and grandparent scams, which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money.

Others include romance scams, which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose; IRS imposter schemes, which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes; and guardianship schemes, which siphon seniors’ financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians.

“This action underscores how huge this problem is,” said Liz Loewy, general counsel and senior vice president of industry relations for EverSafe, a company that specializes in detecting financial abuse and exploitation, and former chief of the Elder Abuse Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

“This sweep is striking to me because it is focused on the problem of strangers perpetrating these schemes. Everyone thinks it is not going to happen to them, but this shows it can happen to them or their parents or grandparents,” she said. “Everyone needs to protect themselves.”

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