PORTLAND, Ore.—Today, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and echoing voices around the world condemning elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
The Department of Justice is committed, through its department-wide Elder Justice Initiative (EJI), to preventing and prosecuting fraud on America’s seniors.
“World Elder Abuse Awareness Day affords us a valuable opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to protecting elderly Americans from fraud and abuse. Seniors fall victim to fraud schemes at far greater rates than the rest of the population,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “We all need to be vigilant in watching out for our elderly friends and love ones. Intercede when you learn that a friend or family member is contemplating sending money to someone who has contacted them by telephone or online. Your vigilance will make a difference.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our country and the world. Senior citizens are among those most vulnerable to and severely affected by the novel coronavirus. During this time when seniors are isolated from their families, friends, and loved ones by social distancing and quarantine restrictions, bad actors have exploited the public health emergency to prey on the elderly through a host of fraud schemes.
For a list of COVID-19-related fraud schemes and tips for protecting your friends and love ones, please visit the U.S. Attorney’s Office COVID-19 fraud webpage at www.justice.gov/usao-or/covid-19-fraud.
Recent District of Oregon elder fraud cases include:
U.S. v. Karanjit Khatkar et al.: In March 2020, two Canadian nationals were sentenced to 24 months in federal prison and three years’ supervised release for conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme to steal bitcoin from an elderly Oregon resident. As mandated by their plea agreements, the defendants delivered a $142,349 check as a prepayment of restitution to their victim at their change of plea hearing. At sentencing, they were ordered to pay an additional $42,162 to their victim for a total restitution order of $184,511. Read more.
U.S. v. Ronnie Stevens & Tina Ephrem: In November 2019, a Portland couple pleaded guilty to defrauding a local elderly couple of approximately $1.8 million in a scheme lasting more than two years. Ronnie Stevens aka Tim Ephrem, 50, and Tina Ephrem aka Lisa Ann Peterson, 43, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Read more.
U.S. v. Theodore Martin Kirk: In September 2019, Theodore Martin Kirk, 64, of Klamath County, Oregon was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years’ supervised release for stealing more than $30,000 in Social Security benefits dispersed in the name of his elderly mother, Nadine Kirk. Ms. Kirk has been missing since March 2010 and is presumed to be deceased. Read more.
Other Justice Department elder fraud initiatives include:
National Elder Fraud Hotline: Earlier this year, Attorney General Barr launched a National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11. 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.
Holding foreign-based perpetrators and those who flee the United States 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.
For more information on enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim services, please visit www.justice.gov/elderjustice.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.