The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas Joins Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to Protect Older Americans

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

SAN ANTONIO – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas announced today that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and 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.”

“Older adults are often exploited and victimized by fraud schemes that deplete their financial resources at a time in their lives when those resources are most needed and most often irreplaceable,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff.  “We are committed to pursuing justice for older adults throughout communities in the Western District of Texas. We look forward to working with other members of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force and our state and local law enforcement partners in this pursuit.”

The Strike Force expansion will further enhance of 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.

This past year, the Austin Division of the Western District of Texas prosecuted, Harry Cole, a Nigerian citizen, who was involved in a fraudulent “sweepstakes” scheme that targeted the elderly with losses in excess of $260 million.  Cole was sentenced to 166 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $850,000 and to pay $111,870.25 in restitution.  The San Antonio Division prosecuted Scherry Lynn Moses, an adult day care owner, for fleecing elderly victims out of their Medicaid and Social Security benefits.  Moses was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,784,817.96 in restitution.  The Court also entered a money judgment against Moses in the amount of $1,784,817.96, representing the proceeds that she obtained as part of the scheme. 

The Department also highlighted two other efforts, including success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent 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 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 professionals 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.

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