BEAUMONT – The Eastern District of Texas announced today that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and to bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice, it is joining the Justice Department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, as one of 14 additional U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Since 2019, current Strike Force members — including the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations — have brought successful cases against the largest and most harmful global elder fraud schemes and worked with foreign law enforcement to disrupt criminal enterprises, disable their infrastructure and bring perpetrators to justice. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat sophisticated fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults. The expansion will increase the total number of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices comprising the Strike Force from six to 20, including all of the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the states of California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and New York.
“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.”
“To this day the greatest generation remains the backbone for supporting truth and justice and the American way; knowing better than most what exceptional sacrifices ordinary Americans made to keep our country free,” said Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston. “Unfortunately, those amazing senior citizens now face a target on their own back from cowardly swindlers who attempt to take advantage of them. It’s our turn to give back by helping prevent crimes committed by thieves who lurk at the end of a phone or computer screen. All of us should make it a priority to prevent our seniors from falling prey to these criminals and know that anyone who harms our greatest generation will be hunted down and prosecuted, for that you have our commitment.”
The Strike Force expansion will further enhance the Department’s existing efforts to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. 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. The matters tackled by the Department and its partners 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.
As part of its elder fraud efforts, the Eastern District of Texas engaged in outreach to the community to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization. This year, the Eastern District of Texas participated in events to provide educational programming to seniors such as presentations provided to tenants of the Plaza Tower in downtown Tyler; local Rotary Clubs; the Hamptons of Tyler, a retirement community; residents of the Pecan Place Senior Apartments in Bonham; the Texoma Senior Center in Sherman; and a church in Beaumont. Groups or organizations in the Eastern District of Texas that are interested in securing a speaker for their event should contact Assistant U.S. Attorney Camelia Lopez at the Plano U.S. Attorney’s Office at 972-509-1201.
The Department also highlighted other efforts, including the indictment of individuals in the Eastern District of Texas who were charged in September 2021 with, allegedly, facilitating a range of schemes, including romance scams.
In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for 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: 1-833 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. Eastern Time. 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.