DOJ Charges Unprecedented Number of Elder Fraud Defendants Nationwide and Launches Hotline

Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  This year, prosecutors charged more than 400 defendants, far surpassing the 260 defendants charged in cases as part of last year’s sweep.  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 over a billion dollars.

Attorney General Barr made the announcement at an event in Florida entitled “Keeping Seniors Safe,” which outlined his vision for protecting older Americans from financial harm.  The event focused special attention on the threat posed by foreign-based fraud schemes that victimize seniors in large numbers.  During the event, the Attorney General declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities.

“Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” said Attorney General William P. Barr.  “This year, the Department of Justice prosecuted more than 400 defendants, whose schemes totaled more than a billion dollars.  I want to thank the men and women of the department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which coordinated this effort, and all those in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Criminal Division who worked tirelessly to bring these cases.  The department is committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors.”

“The charges announced today demonstrate the great success of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to identify and stop those who are targeting our senior communities from overseas,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “We’re committed to continuing our efforts to keep our elderly citizens safe, whether they’re being targeted door-to-door, over the phone, or online.”

“Every day, American consumers, particularly older Americans, receive offers that sound just too good to be true,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale.  “Some come through the mail; others by telephone or the Internet.  These offers have one objective – to rob you of your hard-earned money.  Fraud costs Americans millions of dollars each year.  The good news is most frauds can be prevented.  It’s one of the few crimes in which potential victims can just say “No!”  So hold on to your money and report scams to Postal Inspectors.”

This interactive map provides state by state information on the elder fraud cases and education and prevention community outreach efforts highlighted by today’s sweep announcement.  

ELDER FRAUD HOTLINE

Attorney General Barr also announced the launch of a National Elder Fraud Hotline, which will provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud.  The Hotline will be staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers.  Case managers will assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed.  When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller.  The Hotline’s toll free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).

TRANSNATIONAL ELDER FRAUD STRIKE FORCE

The Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force prosecuted more than one quarter of the defendants charged as part of the announced sweep.  Established in June 2019, the Strike Force is composed of the department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices (Central District of California, Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, Northern District of Georgia, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas), along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel.  Prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.  FBI and the Postal Inspection Service served as lead agencies in the Strike Force and committed substantial investigative resources to pursuing elder fraud cases as part of Strike Force efforts.  The Strike Force has held dozens of meetings with industry, victim groups, and law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels to identify the most harmful schemes victimizing American seniors and to bolster preventive measures against further losses.  

LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS SWEPT FROM COAST TO COAST

U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in every federal district took part in the Elder Fraud Sweep announced today.  Many federal prosecuting offices filed cases against perpetrators and/or facilitators of elder fraud.  Others conducted outreach to law enforcement, community groups, seniors, or private industry.  Other U.S. Attorneys’ Offices demonstrated exceptional devotion to the cause of elder justice by both filing cases and conducting outreach.

For the second year, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners also took comprehensive action against the money mule network that facilitates foreign-based elder fraud.  Generally, perpetrators use a “money mule” to transfer fraud proceeds from a victim to ringleaders of fraud schemes who often reside in other countries.  Some of these money mules act unwittingly, and intervention can effectively end their involvement in the fraud.  The FBI and the Postal Inspection Service took action against over 600 alleged money mules nationwide by conducting interviews, issuing warning letters, and bringing civil and criminal cases.  Agents and prosecutors in more than 85 federal district participated in this effort to halt the money flow from victim to fraudster.  These actions against money mules were in addition to the criminal and civil cases announced as part of this year’s elder fraud sweep.

In addition to announcing the sweep cases, Attorney General Barr and others at the Keeping Seniors Safe event also thanked department personnel — especially the Elder Justice Coordinators app​​ointed in each U.S. Attorney’s Office — for conducting dozens of outreach events across the nation to warn seniors of fraud schemes and to engage with industry representatives and state and local authorities on fraud-prevention measures.  These outreach efforts have helped to prevent seniors from falling prey to scams and have frustrated offenders’ efforts to obtain even more money from vulnerable elders.

The charges announced today are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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