Lexington, KY – The Department of Justice today announced the results of the past year’s efforts to protect seniors from fraud and exploitation. Over the past year, the department and its law enforcement partners have tackled everything from mass marketing scams affecting thousands of victims to bad actors defrauding neighbors. Significant efforts were also made last year to return funds to victims of fraud. Today, the department also announced that it will expand its cross-border elder fraud fighting force to increase its efforts to combat fraud originating from overseas.
“We are stepping up our efforts to protect seniors across the country, including more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorney’s offices participating in our Transnational Seniors Fraud Fighting Force, which works to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute crimes against seniors in America. foreign fraud scheme,” said Attorney General Merrick B. “This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from seniors, including returning those funds to victims where possible.”
“Targeting the elderly and vulnerable through fraudulent schemes is a significant threat, and we must work hard to combat this shameful practice,” said U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “The expansion of the Transnational Seniors Fraud Task Force is another tool that helps us work with federal, state and local law enforcement partners to prosecute those who brazenly attempt to defraud seniors of their money, safety and peace of mind.”
From September 2021 to September 2022, Department personnel and their law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving older victims involving more than 600 defendants, both new cases and advancements in previously charged cases .
An example from Eastern Kentucky is the extradition and conviction of 34-year-old Adedunmola Gbadegesin from Nigeria. He was charged along with three others, Atlanta native Olatunbosun Oluwakayode Ajayi, 40, Otunuya Ineh Eqwem Livingstone, 46, of Houston, and Ismaila Fafunmi, 36, of Indianapolis, with conspiracy to launder money. Gbadegesin and his co-conspirators collaborated to create fake online dating profiles that were posted on online dating sites. As part of the conspiracy, they conducted online chats, emails and phone calls with unwitting victims located in the United States, including one in Lexington. The conspiracy employs others in the United States to collect money from targeted victims and ship the money back to Nigeria through various means.
Additionally, in collaboration with local, state and federal partners, Eastern Kentucky is prioritizing combating financial exploitation of seniors. An example of collaboration between law enforcement is the Kentucky Senior Justice Task Force, which brings together resources from federal, state and local agencies involved in protecting seniors. For more information on the Kentucky Elder Justice Task Force, including how to report abuse, visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edky/elder-justice-task-force.
Nationally, the department highlighted three efforts: expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, successfully returning funds to victims, and cracking down on grandparent scams.
The department announced that as part of its continued efforts to protect seniors and bring perpetrators of fraudulent schemes to justice, it is expanding the Transnational Seniors Fraud Fighting Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s offices. The expanded strike force will help coordinate the department’s ongoing crackdown on the largest and most harmful fraud programs that target or disproportionately affect older adults.
Over the past year, the department has also notified more than 550,000 people that they may be eligible for relief payments. Notice to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies sued by the department, who later fell victim to “sweepstakes” or “astrological” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or personalized service in exchange for fees . More than 150,000 of these victims cashed checks totaling $52 million, and thousands more were eligible for checks. Consumers who paid via Western Union to fraudsters who carried out needy people and job scams were also notified. Over the past year, the department has identified and contacted more than 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for relief. Since March 2020, more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million in a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire transfers Fraud.
Likewise, the department filed a lawsuit against the perpetrators of the “grandparent scam,” also known as the “people in need scam.” These scams often start with fraudsters based overseas contacting seniors and posing as grandchildren, other family members or people calling on behalf of family members. Phone recipients were told their family members were at risk and in dire need of money. A federal judge recently ruled against one of eight perpetrators of grandparent scams under the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, describing such scams as ” Heartbreaking evil”. The department is working with government partners and other agencies to raise awareness of these programs.
Consumer reporting of fraud and fraud attempts is critical for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute programs targeting seniors. If you or someone you know is over 60 and has been a victim of financial fraud, please call the National Fraud Hotline for Seniors: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311) for help. The Department of Justice hotline, run by the Crime Victims’ Office, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide callers with personalized support by assessing victims’ needs and determining next steps. The case manager will identify the appropriate reporting agency, provide callers with information to assist them with reporting or contact the agency, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6 am to 11 pm EST. English, Spanish and other languages are available. For more information about the department’s elder justice work, visit the department’s Elder Justice website at www.elderjustice.gov.
Some of the cases announced today are charges, which are mere charges, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless beyond a reasonable doubt in court.