On Monday U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Department echoes voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world, those most severely affected by the threat of the novel virus are our senior citizens. During this time, seniors are particularly vulnerable, isolated from their families and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions. Bad actors have already been exploiting this international tragedy to prey on the elderly through a whole host of scams and fraud schemes. The Department of Justice remains relentlessly committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative, to prevent and prosecute fraud on America’s seniors.
“Here in Southern Illinois, the greatest generation needs our help,” said U.S. Attorney Weinhoeft. “In the sunset of their lives, our parents and grandparents shouldn’t have to live in fear of being abused or neglected or conned out of their life’s savings. From bad nursing homes and health care fraud to identity theft and telemarketing scams, we take these crimes very seriously and will vigorously prosecute anyone who victimizes senior citizens in this district.”
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. 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 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.
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. In Southern Illinois, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the United States Postal Inspection Service are continuing to actively investigate and disrupt money mule operations through confrontation, education, and criminal prosecution.
Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those that flee the United States accountable. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois has joined the Department in prosecuting transnational criminal organizations targeting our elder population in a variety of schemes, including mass mailing fraud, grandparent scams, romance scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, IRS and Social Security Administration imposter scams, and tech support scams. In 2019, for example, this office prosecuted two of the owners of AFD Medical, a telemarketing scam based in Montreal, Canada, that targeted senior citizens in the United States by offering prescription drug discount cards for $299. These cards were available for free on the internet and provided no real benefit to most seniors. Two others involved in the scheme were also prosecuted in this district, and all four defendants were sentenced to prison.
For more information on enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim services, please visit www.justice.gov/elderjustice.