WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow 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.
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 scams 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 by 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.
“Fraud schemes are intolerable, particularly those that take advantage of our seniors,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow. “We are actively working with federal and state law enforcement partners to prevent, detect and prosecute those who carry out schemes targeting senior citizens. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our seniors from fraud and abuse, and my Office will continue to prioritize prosecuting criminals who prey on the elderly.”
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. During the past year, yte District of Puerto Rico has brought federal charges in seven 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 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 including six defendants in the District of Puerto Rico. In a 35-count indictment, defendants Luz M. Santiago-Torres, Jimmy E. Santiago-Burgos, Félix Rosa-Rosa, José Rivera-Esparra, and Ulises Feliciano-Caraballo were charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, 10 counts of mail fraud, 11 counts of wire fraud, six counts of aggravated identity theft, and seven counts of money laundering. Twelve of the victims of this scheme were seniors. In a separate three-count indictment, Johana Torres-Figueroa was charged with fraud in connection with a major disaster or emergency benefits fraud, making false statements to an agency of the United States, and aggravated identity theft of an unsuspecting elder victim. Both cases are ongoing.
- 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 that 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.
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