The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had a rare celebration on Monday. It was to mark the one year anniversary of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, a group whose task it is to hunt down foreign-based fraudsters who prey on older Americans.
The Department had good reason to celebrate, too. For one thing, it’s been able to slow down the tsunami of robocalls, and fewer calls mean fewer victims.
While one of the DOJ’s posses was cracking down on robocallers, another was coming down heavily on “money mules,” foreign operatives who steal money from seniors and send it to their bosses back home. Money mules are a hot topic this week, with the Federal Trade Commission also warning consumers of the scam’s revival during the pandemic.
“Older Americans have so much to offer our country, but they also face special risks. In recent years, fraud directed against older Americans -- especially over the Internet -- has grown distressingly common,” said Attorney General William P. Barr in his update on the program.
“Seniors lose billions of dollars a year to these frauds, with the average reported individual loss exceeding 34,000 dollars. And many of the perpetrators are not fellow Americans, but transnational criminal organizations -- ruthless cartels located overseas that steal hard-earned savings from some of our finest and most vulnerable citizens.”
Elder fraud continues to be a priority
Barr says he’s instructed both the FBI and each and every U.S. Attorney’s office to keep elder fraud cases on the front burner. Its success to date is commendable, with this year’s Elder Fraud Sweep netting 400 defendants implicated for causing more than a billion dollars in losses.
“And we are not going to let up, because we know fraudsters are working overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is despicable that scammers are using a public health crisis to exploit seniors’ fears and steal their money. But we are watching, and we will bring them to justice,” Barr said.
For elder fraud victims who’ve already been sucker-punched, the DOJ is adding a new service to help them rebuild their financial lives. The National Elder Fraud Hotline -- 1-833-FRAUD-1-1 -- is now in operation and staffed every day of the week by case managers who have experience in fraud and can help victims get the resources they need.
“Studies show that older Americans are sometimes embarrassed to report fraud, but they should not be. The sooner fraud is reported, the better the chances of catching the perpetrator and recovering the victim’s money.”