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Western District Of New York takes part in largest ever nationwide elder fraud sweep

STAFF REPORTS


BUFFALO – Attorney General William P. Barr and U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing last year’s nationwide sweep. The cases during this sweep involved more than 260 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly.

Sheldon Hurley, 39, a citizen of Markham, Ontario, Canada, is charged in the Western District of New York. Hurley is alleged to have participated in a scheme beginning in May 2007 until July 2011 to obtain money from hundreds of victims, including some of whom were elderly. Hurley allegedly personally received in excess of $159,000. Scheme participants operated websites for fictitious financial services companies offering to arrange loans to individuals with credit problems. The victims provided personal information and were told they would be contacted by a lender for approval. When informed that a loan was arranged, applicants were instructed to sign and return a loan agreement, provide bank information, and pay an “insurance deposit.”  Hurley is alleged to then have engaged individuals to act as Company payees and obtained the funds from the United States. Loan applicants never received the loans, but were often coerced into making multiple deposits. An extradition request was sent to Canada in December 2017, and Hurley was surrendered to the United States on January 15, 2019.

“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But thanks to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, as well as our state and local partners, the Department of Justice is protecting our seniors from fraud. The Trump administration has placed a renewed focus on prosecuting those who prey on the elderly, and the results of today’s sweep make that clear. Today we are announcing the largest single law enforcement action against elder fraud in American history. This year’s sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, 28 percent more in losses, and twice the number of fraud victims as last year’s sweep. I want to thank the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which led this effort, together with the Department’s Criminal Division, the more than 50 U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and the state and local partners who helped to make these results possible. Together, we are bringing justice and peace of mind to America's seniors.”

“Sheldon Hurley may have thought he was part of a sophisticated scheme taking advantage those who were struggling financially, including elderly victims, but let this prosecution serve as a warning,” said U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “Our office will continue to work diligently to bring to justice all criminals, particularly those who target the elderly, no matter where those criminals may be.” 

The Department took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts. In each case, offenders allegedly engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused alleged losses of millions of more dollars than last year, putting the total alleged losses at this year’s sweep at over three fourths of one billion dollars.

The charges are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. The Justice Department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.

Technical-Support Takedown 2019

As part of the sweep, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners announced a tech-support fraud takedown, designed to combat an increasingly common form of elder fraud in which criminals trick victims into giving remote access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support. In 2018, technical-support schemes generated over 142,000 consumer complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. Consumers 60 and over filed more loss reports on tech-support scams from 2015 to 2018 than on any other fraud category reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network.

The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section, and 10 U.S. Attorney’s Offices brought cases against perpetrators of technical-support fraud. The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and HSI partnered with the Justice Department in investigating these cases, and the FTC, several state Attorneys General and the U.K.’s City of London Police joined the effort by initiating their own cases.

“We’re committed to investigating financial fraud schemes against the elderly,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We’ve dedicated additional resources to address a wide range of elder fraud threats, including technical-support fraud. Victims of these schemes often lose thousands of dollars or more apiece, which can cause significant harm to elderly victims and their caretakers. If anyone suspects that they – or a senior they know – may be a victim of fraud, we encourage them to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.”

Transnational Criminal Organizations Committing Elder Fraud

“The sweep announced today brings the Postal Inspection Service to a landmark point in its battle against transnational criminal organizations committing mass mailing elder fraud,” said Chief Postal Inspector Barksdale. “In a recently unsealed case, two Canadians pled guilty and, thanks to the Spanish National Police, another was arrested in Spain for an alleged mail fraud scheme involving $180 million in losses to over one million victims. The Inspection Service has been at the forefront of protecting customers from fraud schemes for many years and we will continue to investigate and stop those who exploit older Americans for their own illegal gains.”

Many of the cases brought as part of the elder fraud sweep announced today – including many of the technical-support fraud cases – allegedly involved transnational criminal organizations. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs worked with numerous countries to secure evidence and capture defendants. During the sweep period, defendants in elder fraud cases were extradited from Canada, The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Poland.

Money Mule Initiative

In addition, in a novel approach, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners took comprehensive action against the money mule network that facilitates foreign-based elder fraud. Generally, a money mule is someone who transfers money acquired illegally in person, through the mails, or electronically, on behalf of others. Across the country, money mules receive fraud proceeds directly from victims and forward proceeds to perpetrators and ringleaders of fraud schemes—individuals who often reside in other countries. As part of the sweep, the FBI and the Postal Inspection Service took action against over 600 alleged money mules nationwide by conducting interviews, issuing warning letters, and bringing civil and criminal cases. Secret Service agents aided these efforts by seizing and forfeiting elder fraud proceeds in transit from victims to perpetrators.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to the fight against elder fraud in conjunction with the Justice Department, and our other law enforcement partners,” said Executive Associate Director Derek Benner. “HSI Special Agents across the country have worked to address illegal fund transfers, fraudsters operating technical-support schemes, and elder fraud of all varieties. We will continue to use creative solutions to protect our nation’s seniors from fraud; financial security is critical to homeland security.”

“The Secret Service is committed to aggressively investigating and disrupting organized criminal groups who prey on our most vulnerable citizens,” said Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles. “The results of the elder fraud sweep announced today demonstrate what can be achieved though incredible partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”

Public Education

The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners focused the sweep’s public education campaign on technical-support fraud, given the widespread harm such schemes are causing. The FTC and State Attorneys General had an important role in designing and disseminating messaging material intended to warn consumers and businesses.

Public education outreach is being conducted by various state and federal agencies, including Senior Corps, a national service program administered by the federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service, to educate seniors and prevent further victimization. The Senior Corps program engages more than 245,000 older adults in intensive service each year, who in turn, serve more than 840,000 additional seniors, including 332,000 veterans.

Global Efforts

Exceptional assistance from foreign law enforcement partners amplified the effectiveness of the Department’s initiative. The sweep announced today benefited greatly from the work of the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG), a network of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Canada, Europol, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The IMMFWG is co-chaired by the Department of Justice and the FTC, and law enforcement in the United Kingdom, and serves as a model for international cooperation against specific threats that endanger the financial well-being of each member country’s residents. Due to the IMMFWG’s network of law enforcement, simultaneous technical-support fraud consumer education campaigns are being released in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Elder Fraud Complaints

Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime, which can be reached at www.ovc.gov.

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