(STL.News) – U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice to observe the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“The investigation and prosecution of criminals who prey upon the elderly is a top priority of my office,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “This year, we have brought charges against numerous defendants who attempted to victimize seniors and we will continue to do so in the future. Those individuals who prey on the elderly should know that it will be only a matter of time before we find and prosecute you.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, but among those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time when seniors are most vulnerable and isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have immediately exploited this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scam and fraud schemes. As the world takes this day to remember the elderly during these uncertain times, the Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
The Department will aggressively prosecute fraudsters exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fake help obtaining stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program Funds. On this day dedicated to recognizing our seniors, the Department of Justice sends a strong message that we continue the fight to keep seniors safe a top priority.
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities. The Northern District of Georgia has brought federal charges in numerous cases of elder fraud.
Major strides have already been made to that end:
- National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11
Earlier this year Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline. Staffed by experienced case managers who provide personalized support to callers, the hotline serves to assist elders and caretakers who believe they have been a victim of fraud by reporting and providing appropriate services
- Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force: Established in June 2019 to combat foreign elder fraud schemes, the Strike Force is composed of the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, including the Northern District of
- Georgia, along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel. Since its inception, prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants
- Annual Elder Justice Sweep: In March of this year, the Attorney General announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in department history. The Department, together with every U.S. Attorney’s office, charged more than 400 defendants, causing over $1 billion in loss through fraud schemes that largely affected seniors
- Holding foreign-based perpetrators accountable: Transnational criminal organizations are targeting our elder population in schemes including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social
- Security Administration imposter scams, and technical-support scams
- Money Mule Initiative: Since October 2018, the Department and its law enforcement partners began a concentrated effort across the country and around the world to disrupt, investigate, and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes, especially those victimizing senior citizens. In 2019 actions were taken to halt the conduct of more than 600 domestic money mules, exceeding a similar effort against approximately 400 mules in the previous year
Northern District of Georgia Elder Fraud Cases in 2020
In 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has prosecuted many defendants who have perpetrated elder fraud, including cases involving romance scams, retirement fraud, impersonation of government officials, identity theft, and timeshare fraud.
Romance scams are a type of online fraud in which victims are targeted by individuals posing as potential paramours. The fraudsters create fake online dating profiles (often with photographs of attractive men or women) and use these fake personas to express a romantic interest in the victims in order to trick them into sending money to them or their co-conspirators under false pretenses. Romance scams frequently target vulnerable individuals who possess significant financial assets, such as retired widows or widowers.
- In United States v. Okang, et al., twenty-four defendants were charged for their involvement in a large-scale fraud and money laundering operation that targeted citizens, corporations, and financial institutions throughout the United States. Business email compromise schemes, romance fraud scams, and retirement account scams, among other frauds, duped numerous victims, including many elderly individuals, into losing more than $30 million
- In United States v. Alonge, et al., two defendants pleaded guilty based upon their involvement in a Nigeria-based romance scam that tricked victims into sending over $1.8 million. Both defendants were sentenced to ten years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,835,279.00. The second sentencing occurred in January 2020
- In United States v. Adara, et al., two defendants pleaded guilty based upon their involvement in a Nigeria-based romance scam. Their sentencings are scheduled for later in 2020
We also prosecute cases involving India-based centers that scammed U.S. residents, including the elderly. Criminal India-based call centers seek to profit by exploiting U.S. residents through various phone scams, including the impersonation of government officials. The call center operators trick the victims and at times threaten consequences if they do not send money. If the victims agree to pay, the call centers then turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds.
- In June 2020 in United States v. Patel, et al., two defendants were indicted for allegedly laundering over $400,000 in funds derived from an India-based tech support and Social Security scams that victimized numerous elderly individuals
- In United States v. Patel, the defendant pleaded guilty to wire fraud for using fake identifications to retrieve over $150,000 from over 160 victims of India-based tele-fraud. His sentencing is scheduled for July 2020
In United States v. Excellent Solutions BPO, et al., eight defendants pleaded guilty and were subsequently sentenced in January 2020 to up to four years and nine months for their involvement in an India-based IRS impersonation scam that victimized thousands of United States residents and resulted in over $3.7 million in losses
- In June 2020, in United States v. Durrell Tyler, the defendant was charged with access device fraud and aggravated identity theft where he possessed and used personal identifying information, including social security numbers, of elderly victims
In January 2020, Katherine Craig was charged with mail fraud. Craig allegedly embezzled over $1.7 million dollars from a company she was managing and defrauded over 1000 timeshare owners, most of whom were elderly retirees. Craig operated the timeshare resort where she worked without casualty insurance, even though the Lease Agreements required the resort to maintain casualty insurance. Over the years, the buildings at the resort deteriorated through storm damage and neglect and by early 2016, the resort was in such bad shape that Craig was not allowing any timeshare owners to vacation there anymore
The charges are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law