District of South Carolina Takes Part in Department of Justice’s Wide-Ranging Efforts to Protect Older Adults

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

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA — The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and United States Attorney Adair F. Boroughs announced the results of federal efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation.  During the past year, DOJ 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 both nationwide and in South Carolina have been made over the last year to return money to fraud victims.  Today, DOJ 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.”

“Our older adults deserve protection from those who seek to swindle funds they have spent a lifetime accumulating, and this Office is ready and equipped to provide that protection here in South Carolina,” said U.S. Attorney Boroughs. “These crimes are especially heinous because they can rob their victims – who often live on fixed incomes – of not only their life-long savings, but of their dignity. We are proud to join DOJ’s intensified efforts to target those who attempt to perpetrate these schemes.”

From September 2021 to September 2022, DOJ personnel and their law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.

In the past year, DOJ has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible to receive money lost through elder fraud scams.  Many of these people were victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return for a fee. One of the most common scams used to prey on elderly victims is the “grandparent scam,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scam.”  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.  Victims are told that their family member is in jeopardy and is urgently in need of money.  Because these scams and others are pervasive, DOJ and the United States Attorney’s Office are committed to raising awareness about these schemes.

In South Carolina, the United States Attorney’s Office has prosecuted several cases in the past year involving similar scams against elderly South Carolinians.  In May, United States District Judge Sherri Lydon sentenced four Jamaican nationals to terms of incarceration ranging from approximately three to five years and ordered them to pay back over $350,000 in fraudulently-obtained proceeds.  In that scam, the defendants contacted elderly victims by phone and mail, and falsely told them they had won a sweepstakes.  The supposed prizes in these sweepstakes usually consisted of millions of dollars, a new vehicle, or other valuable items.  The defendants told the victims they had to pay taxes and fees in order to receive their winnings, and victims mailed the defendants prepaid cards, money orders, cash, and personal checks.  At least 67 victims, who were mostly elderly, suffered a loss as part of the scheme.  Twenty-five of those victims were more than 80 years old, and several victims were targeted multiple times.

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In September, United States District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks sentenced a foreign national to 78 months imprisonment and ordered her to pay back over $405,000 in fraudulently-obtained proceeds for her involvement in a similar scam. At least 175 victims, who were mostly elderly, suffered a loss as part of the scheme.  Seventy-three of those victims were more than 80 years old, and several victims were targeted multiple times.

In order to increase public awareness of these scams, the United States Attorney’s Office has partnered with state prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to speak to community groups about the pervasive dangers of elder fraud and abuse.  For instance, the office and its partners have hosted “Elder Fraud Bingo” with senior citizens across South Carolina, aimed at educating seniors on how to spot and protect themselves against frauds and scams.  Any members of the public interested in arranging a similar event or contacting a member of the United States Attorney’s Office who can speak to these issues, please call the main line at 803-929-3000.

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 through 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.  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.