NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – June 15, 2020
SAN DIEGO – Today, U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. 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 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 is aggressively prosecuting fraudsters exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic and targeting seniors offering them fake testing kits and fraudulent claims of assistance in 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 are continuing our ongoing fight to keep seniors safe from elder abuse and exploitation. Our district’s federal prosecutors recently joined AARP in holding a virtual town hall for seniors, to ensure that they are not defrauded of their hard-earned and sometimes limited resources on false claims of non-existent COVID-19 cures,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer. “With AARP’s collaboration, we successfully directed more than 4,500 listeners to best practices and available resources.”
Attorney General Barr has 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 Southern District of California has brought federal charges targeting elder fraud, including the successful prosecution of Samuel Davalos Jr., who was sentenced in November 2019 to 18 months in prison after admitting to embezzling $117,305 from vulnerable older account holders at the Point Loma Credit Union where he worked as a teller. Davalos, 28, pleaded guilty last year to one count of bank fraud, acknowledging that from July 2017 to March 2019, he used his account access to defraud the credit union and its members by processing unauthorized withdrawals from members’ accounts, even creating unauthorized checks and other instruments paid to himself and his accomplices. Significantly, Davalos admitted that he purposely selected older members of the credit union as his victims because he believed they were less likely to notice the stolen funds.
The Department is conducting significant outreach to ensure that seniors recognize and report fraud and have prioritized the resulting investigations. Major strides have already been made to that end, including:
• 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 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 who collectively caused 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. (Money mules are individuals who assist fraud schemes by receiving money from victims, many of them elderly, and forwarding proceeds to foreign-based perpetrators. While the fraud schemes vary greatly, they include imposters who call would-be victims claiming to represent some official entity such as the IRS or even a personal acquaintance such as the would-be victim’s grandchild. Scams are also conducted via email, with scammers trying to lure would-be victims to provide personal information, perhaps by claiming they have won prizes. In all cases, the end goal is to bilk unsuspecting victims of money.)
• 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.