Attorney General Focuses on Threats Posed by Technical-Support Fraud
Attorney General William P. Barr and multiple law enforcement partners today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep. The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly. The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts. 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 millions of more dollars than last year, putting the total alleged losses at this year’s sweep at over three fourths of one billion dollars.
Attorney General Barr was joined in the announcement by FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich; Executive Associate Director Derek Benner for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons; Louisiana Attorney General and President of the National Association of Attorneys General Jeff Landry; Director Randolph Alles of the Secret Service; Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale; Barbara Stewart CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service; and former FBI director and CIA director Judge Webster and Lynda Webster.
The charges are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But thanks to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, as well as our state and local partners, the Department of Justice is protecting our seniors from fraud. The Trump administration has placed a renewed focus on prosecuting those who prey on the elderly, and the results of today’s sweep make that clear. Today we are announcing the largest single law enforcement action against elder fraud in American history. This year’s sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, 28 percent more in losses, and twice the number of fraud victims as last year’s sweep. I want to thank the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which led this effort, together with the Department’s Criminal Division, the more than 50 U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and the state and local partners who helped to make these results possible. Together, we are bringing justice and peace of mind to America’s seniors.”
A list of Elder Fraud cases by the Department of Justice is provided on this interactive map.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. The Justice Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act. In February 2018, the Attorney General announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history at the time, charging more than 200 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. In November 2018, Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture hosted the first Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Summit in Des Moines, Iowa. The Summit focused on supporting the efforts of elder justice professionals to combat elder abuse and financial exploitation in rural and tribal communities.
Technical-Support Takedown 2019
As part of the sweep, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners announced a tech-support fraud takedown, designed to combat an increasingly common form of elder fraud in which criminals trick victims into giving remote access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support. In 2018, technical-support schemes generated over 142,000 consumer complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. Consumers 60 and over filed more loss reports on tech-support scams from 2015 to 2018 than on any other fraud category reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network.
The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section, and 10 U.S. Attorney’s Offices brought cases against perpetrators of technical-support fraud. The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and HSI partnered with the Justice Department in investigating these cases, and the FTC, several state Attorneys General and the U.K.’s City of London Police joined the effort by initiating their own cases. A fact-sheet with technical-support fraud case information can be found here.
“We’re committed to investigating financial fraud schemes against the elderly,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We’ve dedicated additional resources to address a wide range of elder fraud threats, including technical-support fraud. Victims of these schemes often lose thousands of dollars or more apiece, which can cause significant harm to elderly victims and their caretakers. If anyone suspects that they – or a senior they know – may be a victim of fraud, we encourage them to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.”
Transnational Criminal Organizations Committing Elder Fraud
“The sweep announced today brings the Postal Inspection Service to a landmark point in its battle against transnational criminal organizations committing mass mailing elder fraud,” said Chief Postal Inspector Barksdale. “In a recently unsealed case, two Canadians pled guilty and, thanks to the Spanish National Police, another was arrested in Spain for an alleged mail fraud scheme involving $180 million in losses to over one million victims. The Inspection Service has been at the forefront of protecting customers from fraud schemes for many years and we will continue to investigate and stop those who exploit older Americans for their own illegal gains.”
A fact-sheet with cases on mass mailing fraud can be found here.
Many of the cases brought as part of the elder fraud sweep announced today – including many of the technical-support fraud cases – allegedly involved transnational criminal organizations. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs worked with numerous countries to secure evidence and capture defendants. During the sweep period, defendants in elder fraud cases were extradited from Canada, The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Poland. A fact-sheet with examples of a few elder fraud cases involving extradition in which the Office of International Affairs played a substantial role can be found here.
Money Mule Initiative
In addition, in a novel approach, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners took comprehensive action against the money mule network that facilitates foreign-based elder fraud. Generally, a money mule is someone who transfers money acquired illegally in person, through the mails, or electronically, on behalf of others. Across the country, money mules receive fraud proceeds directly from victims and forward proceeds to perpetrators and ringleaders of fraud schemes—individuals who often reside in other countries. As part of the sweep, 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. Secret Service agents aided these efforts by seizing and forfeiting elder fraud proceeds in transit from victims to perpetrators.
“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to the fight against elder fraud in conjunction with the Justice Department, and our other law enforcement partners,” said Executive Associate Director Derek Benner. “HSI Special Agents across the country have worked to address illegal fund transfers, fraudsters operating technical-support schemes, and elder fraud of all varieties. We will continue to use creative solutions to protect our nation’s seniors from fraud; financial security is critical to homeland security.”
“The Secret Service is committed to aggressively investigating and disrupting organized criminal groups who prey on our most vulnerable citizens,” said Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles. “The results of the elder fraud sweep announced today demonstrate what can be achieved though incredible partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”
The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners focused the sweep’s public education campaign on technical-support fraud, given the widespread harm such schemes are causing. The FTC and State Attorneys General had an important role in designing and disseminating messaging material intended to warn consumers and businesses.
Public education outreach is being conducted by various state and federal agencies, including Senior Corps, a national service program administered by the federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service, to educate seniors and prevent further victimization. The Senior Corps program engages more than 245,000 older adults in intensive service each year, who in turn, serve more than 840,000 additional seniors, including 332,000 veterans. Information on Senior Corps’ efforts to reduce elder fraud can be found here.
Exceptional assistance from foreign law enforcement partners amplified the effectiveness of the Department’s initiative. The sweep announced today benefited greatly from the work of the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG), a network of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Canada, Europol, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The IMMFWG is co-chaired by the Department of Justice and the FTC, and law enforcement in the United Kingdom, and serves as a model for international cooperation against specific threats that endanger the financial well-being of each member country’s residents. Due to the IMMFWG’s network of law enforcement, simultaneous technical-support fraud consumer education campaigns are being released in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Elder Fraud Complaints
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.