NEWARK, N.J. – The Justice Department announced today the results of its 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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said. “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.”
“Preying on our older citizens, who are often vulnerable to these types of fraud scams, is something our office takes especially seriously,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “As scammers continue to concoct new ways to try and trick our parents and grandparents out of their money, we will be there with our law enforcement partners to stop them, and to always try to return stolen funds to the victims.”
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.
This past year, the District of New Jersey brought charges against multiple defendants for devising and carrying out fraudulent schemes that specifically targeted elderly victims. This included seven leaders of the Cape Town Zone of the Neo Black Movement of Africa, also known as “Black Axe,” and an eighth man who conspired with a Black Axe leader, all of whom were charged with multiple federal crimes relating to internet-based romance scams and advance fee schemes they perpetrated from South Africa. The District also obtained guilty pleas from multiple defendants whose lottery sweepstakes scams and romance scams had targeted elderly victims in New Jersey.
As part of the District of New Jersey’s elder fraud efforts, the Office engages in outreach to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. This year, these outreach efforts included a presentation to seniors at the Springfield, New Jersey community center on April 28, 2022, entitled “Identity Theft & Fraud Prevention,” in cooperation with representatives from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the Springfield, New Jersey, Police Department.
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 160,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $62 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 professional 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.