U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced recently the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.
The cases involve more than 250 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly. The cases include criminal, civil and forfeiture actions across more than 50 federal districts.
Of the defendants, 200 were charged criminally. In each case, offenders engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors.
In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused losses of more than half a billion dollars. The department coordinated its announcement with the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, who independently filed numerous cases targeting elder frauds within the sweep period.
“The Justice Department and its partners are taking unprecedented, coordinated action to protect elderly Americans from financial threats, both foreign and domestic,” said Sessions. “Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are. When criminals steal the hard-earned life savings of older Americans, we will respond with all the tools at the Department’s disposal – criminal prosecutions to punish offenders, civil injunctions to shut the schemes down, and asset forfeiture to take back ill-gotten gains.
“Today is only the beginning. I have directed Department prosecutors to coordinate with both domestic law enforcement partners and foreign counterparts to stop these criminals from exploiting our seniors.”
The actions charged a variety of 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 schemes charged in these cases caused losses to more than a million victims.
“Over the last year, the FBI has initiated more than 200 financial crimes cases involving elderly victims who were devastated financially, emotionally, mentally and physically. Picking up the pieces of these fraud schemes can be equally as traumatizing for the caregivers of these elderly victims,” said FBI Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich.
“The FBI reminds seniors and their caregivers to be vigilant. If any person believes they are the victim of, or have knowledge of fraud involving an elderly person, regardless of the loss amount, they should report it to the FBI.”
During the sweep period, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, working with investigative agencies, prosecuted individuals who stole the identity of an elderly Chatham County resident and withdrew thousands of dollars from the victim’s bank account. All of the participants in that scheme have pled guilty to felony offenses.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also charged four individuals with their roles in a $15 million oil investment fraud scheme that bilked numerous elderly Americans out of hundreds of thousands of dollars; many of those victims lost their life savings.
“Our office will aggressively prosecute fraudsters and financial criminals who target elderly Americans,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Bobby L. Christine said. “We take seriously our obligation to protect some of America’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Actions against other elder fraud schemes
Prosecutors across the country from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, the Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices have heeded the call to focus resources on elder fraud cases.
Over 50 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department Components filed elder fraud cases in the last year. Some examples of the elder financial exploitation prosecuted by the Department include:
• “Lottery phone scams,” in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
• “Grandparent scams,” which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
• “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;
• “Guardianship schemes,” which siphon seniors’ financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians.
Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime, which can be reached at www.ovc.gov.