HARRISBURG — The Justice Department today announced the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. For the past year, the ministry and its law enforcement partners have dealt with matters ranging from mass marketing scams that affected thousands of victims to bad actors cheating on their neighbors. Significant efforts have also been made over the past year to return money to scam victims. The Department also announced today that it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to increase efforts to combat fraud originating abroad.
“We are ramping up our efforts to protect older adults nationwide, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. law firms participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud programs, targeting American seniors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “This expansion builds on the Justice Department’s existing work to hold accountable those who steal funds from older adults, including returning those funds to victims where possible.”
“Every day in the Middle District of Pennsylvania — and across the country — scammers use technology to steal money from our most vulnerable citizens,” said US Attorney Gerard M. Karam. “Fighting fraud is a priority for the US Attorney’s Office, and we are committed to prosecuting individuals who engage in such activities. We urge all victims to report so we can continue this fight.”
During the September 2021-September 2022 period, Department staff and its law enforcement partners prosecuted approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, bringing both new cases and advancing those previously charged.
Last year, the Middle District charged Itcace Abramovici, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen, with his leadership role in a Montreal-based telemarketing and money-laundering organization that targeted elderly victims across the United States, including those living in central Pennsylvania Life . Abramovici and his co-conspirators informed potential victims that they had won a significant amount of money in a lottery or sweepstakes and then instructed those victims to send money to receive their winnings. Victims’ payments were mislabeled as taxes, customs fees, handling fees, and attorney and insurance fees. None of the victims received any money, and many of their losses were significant, with more than $460,000 in victim losses attributed to Abramovici’s role in the scam and losses to victims of the broader scam totaling more than $1.3 million. Abramovici was sentenced to 30 months in prison on May 9, 2022.
The Middle District also indicted Jabin Godspower Okpako of Nigeria and his wife, Christine Bradley Okpako of Sayre, Pennsylvania, for their roles in the conspiracy to launder approximately $1.89 million in mail and wire fraud proceeds. The program aimed to scam multiple female victims in the United States ranging in age from 55 to 85. The victims had visited online gaming, relationship and dating websites including Instagram, Facebook, Words with Friends and What’s App. Based in the United States and West Africa, the conspirators befriended the victims by interacting via text and instant messaging and exchanging photos on the websites. After establishing online relationships with the victims, the conspirators fraudulently tricked the victims into sending and transferring funds for various fictional reasons. Jabin Okpako received an 87-month prison sentence and Christine Okpako received a 37-month prison sentence.
The Middle District also charged five New York men, Josiah DeJesus, 20, Jashua Noboa-Nival, 20, Yeurys Peguero-Rosario, 22, Ramon Peguero-Rosario, 19, and Nelson Rivas-Bello, 27. their participation in a “grandparent” mail fraud scheme. The indictment alleged that the defendants traveled from New York to various locations in Pennsylvania, including addresses in Luzerne and Lackawanna County, and picked up UPS and Fed-Ex packages containing thousands of dollars in cash returned by elderly victims had been sent under the false pretense that their grandchildren had been arrested and were in urgent need of money. The victims sent the money after receiving fraudulent phone calls from co-conspirators of the named defendants, posing as either the victims’ grandchildren or a public defender representing the victims’ grandchildren.
As part of the Middle District’s elder fraud efforts, he engages with the public and industry to raise awareness of fraud and exploitation and prevent victimization. This year, we partnered with the FBI and AARP to reach approximately 4,000 seniors during an interactive conference call discussing the facts of the latest financial scams targeting seniors. The Middle District also participated in various seniors’ exhibitions in the district to educate seniors about financial fraud.
The department also highlighted three other efforts: expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims, and efforts to combat grandparent fraud.
The department announced that it is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force and adding 14 new U.S. attorneys as part of its continued efforts to protect older adults and prosecute fraudsters. Expanding the Strike Force will help coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat the largest and most damaging fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.
Over the past year, the ministry has notified more than 550,000 people that they may be eligible for waiver payments. Alerts were sent to consumers whose information was sold by one of the three data companies prosecuted by the ministry and who later became victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prices or customized services for a fee. More than 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 million, and thousands more are eligible to receive checks. Also notified were consumers who paid scammers who committed needy and labor fraud through Western Union. Over the past year, the department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for waivers. As of March 2020, more than 148,000 victims have received more than $366 million as a result of a 2017 criminal order with Western Union over the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its complicity in wire fraud.
For the past year, the department has prosecuted cases against perpetrators of “grandparent fraud,” also known as “person-in-need fraud.” These scams usually begin when a scammer, often based overseas, contacts an older adult and poses as either a grandchild, another family member, or someone calling on behalf of a family member. Call recipients are told that their family member is in danger and needs money urgently. When a federal judge recently convicted one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent fraud charged under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, he called such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness of these programs.
Consumer reporting of fraud and attempted fraud is critical to law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute programs that target older adults. If you or someone you know is 60 years of age or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, the National Elder Fraud Hotline is available: 1-833 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Crime Victims Office, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide callers with one-on-one support by assessing the victim’s needs and identifying next steps. Case managers identify appropriate hotlines, provide callers with information to assist in reporting or connect them to hotlines, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m[ET]. English, Spanish and other languages are available. For more information on the Department’s Elder Justice efforts, visit the Department of Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.
Some of the cases comprising today’s announcement are counts that are allegations only, and the defendants will be presumed innocent unless and until proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
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