San Juan, Puerto Rico – The United States 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,” 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.”
W. Stephen Muldrow indicated that “the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico has actively joined ongoing nationwide efforts not only to prosecute those who target the elderly but also to educate Puerto Rico citizens about the fraud schemes that are being used in our area. Keeping all our citizens safe from criminal predators requires not only law enforcement action after the fact, but also a fair amount of knowledge and affirmative action by our community members. Awareness and prevention about the scams that exist are integral in our battle against elder fraud. Reporting incidents of victimization is also important to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue the recovery of funds for victims.”
During the period from September 2021 to September 2022, U.S. Department of Justice personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.
As part of the District’s elder fraud efforts, our personnel engaged in outreach to the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation, and to prevent victimization. This year, the USAO‑Puerto Rico’s PACE Division held a series of crime prevention seminars in the Multiple Activities Centers for the Elderly (known in Spanish by the acronym of “CAMPEA”) managed by the Family Department across the Island. Pursuant to this initiative, the PACE (Public Affairs and Community Outreach Unit) visited the following CAMPEA locations where Assistant United States Attorney Kelly Zenón and Community Outreach Specialist Genesis González provided important and insightful training to the elderly community: Bayamón, Arecibo, Lares, Juana Díaz, Aguada, Guayama and Aguadilla. The photograph included was taken during the Financial Fraud Prevention Seminars at the CAMPEA locations.
The Department also highlighted three other efforts being pursued nationwide to address this important matter: 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 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 because 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. 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.