MACON, Ga. – Today, U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler joined Attorney General William P. Barr and the entire Department of Justice (DOJ) in observing the 15th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, condemning elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the DOJ is also urging senior citizens to be aware of scams targeting the elderly, like fake COVID-19 testing kits and stimulus check fraud.
“It’s atrocious that fraudsters are preying on our elderly citizens at a time when so many have been isolated from family and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let me be clear that we will prosecute these criminals to the fullest extent allowed by law,” said Charlie Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “I urge all senior citizens who suspect they have been a victim of fraud to call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11. It’s important to report these crimes, so law enforcement can stop fraudsters from harming more people.”
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. 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: Earlier this year, Attorney General Barr launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline 1-833-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 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. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.