KANSAS CITY (KSNT) – New information released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice outlines efforts to protect the elderly from fraud and exploitation schemes.
According to the DOJ, the Department and law enforcement partners have focused on matters ranging from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. “Substantial efforts” were also put toward returning money to victims of fraud. On Oct. 4, the DOJ announced it will expand its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to combat scams coming from overseas.
“We are intensifying our efforts nationwide to protect older adults, including by more than tripling the number of U.S. Attorneys’ offices participating in our Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force dedicated to disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target 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 by returning those funds to the victims where possible.”
“As technology evolves so does the complexity of the scams targeting older adults. Unfortunately, too often these fraudulent schemes procure large amounts of money from victims,” said U.S. Attorney Duston Slinkard. “The DOJ won’t waver in efforts to dismantle these criminal enterprises and bring perpetrators to justice no matter where in the world they are based.”
From September 2021 to September 2022 the DOJ and other personnel in law enforcement pursued 260 cases involving over 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged. Over the past year, the USAO-District of Kansas prosecuted multiple cases of fraud against senior citizens.
In February 2021, Oyindamola Akinrinola, 24, of Lawrence pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She admitted to receiving over $160,000 in deposits related to scams and remitting the majority of money to Nigeria after keeping a portion of the proceeds for herself. She is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 15, 2022.
In May 2022, Innocent N. Ugwu, 24, of Fort Riley, was indicted on five counts of wire fraud, five counts of laundering monetary instruments and one count of procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully. Ugwu is accused of conspiring with others to commit fraud using false pretenses and promises and the omission of material facts to carry out romance, advance fee and other fraudulent schemes.
The DOJ also highlights three other efforts: expansion of the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force, success in returning money to victims and efforts to combat grandparent scams. As part of the DOJ’s continuing efforts to protect older the elderly and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice, it will add 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the DOJ’s ongoing efforts to combat the largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.
Over the past year, the DOJ has notified more than 550,000 people they may be eligible for remission payments. The agency notified consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the DOJ and who later became victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes in return for a fee. More than 150,000 of those victims cashed checks totaling $52 million. Thousands more are still eligible to receive checks.
The DOJ also notified consumers who paid fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. The DOJ identified and contacted more than 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission over the past year. Since March 2020, more than 148,000 victims received over $366 million as a result of a 2017 criminal resolution with Western Union for the company’s willful failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and its aiding and abetting of wire fraud.