BOISE – The Justice Department announced Tuesday the results of its efforts over the past year to protect older adults from fraud and exploitation. During the past year, the Department and its law enforcement partners tackled matters that ranged from mass-marketing scams that impacted thousands of victims to bad actors scamming their neighbors. Substantial efforts were also made over the last year to return money to fraud victims. The Department also announced it is expanding its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to amplify efforts to combat scams originating 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.”
“Our Office is strongly committed to investigating and prosecuting elder fraud in Idaho,” said U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit. “We will not hesitate to use our resources to track down those who prey upon older Americans through online or other scams, even when the criminals are not in Idaho.”
During the period from September 2021 to September 2022, Department personnel and its law enforcement partners pursued approximately 260 cases involving more than 600 defendants, both bringing new cases and advancing those previously charged.
This past August, a federal grand jury in Boise returned an indictment against James Dougherty, 42, and Jessica Dougherty, 41, that charged conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, and bank fraud. As alleged in the indictment, James and Jessica Dougherty devised a scheme to defraud an elderly individual residing in Idaho. As further alleged in the indictment, the elderly individual ostensibly signed a power of attorney, will, and trust in favor of James and Jessica Dougherty, which James and Jessica Dougherty then used to access the elderly individual’s money and property for their own personal use and benefit, including transferring the elderly individual’s home into their own names.
As part of the District of Idaho’s elder fraud efforts, it engages with the community and industry to raise awareness about scams and exploitation and preventing victimization, including regularly meeting with local law enforcement and financial institutions about elder fraud scams in Idaho. The District of Idaho’s Elder Justice Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean M. Mazorol, will continue to work with state and local law enforcement partners and stakeholders to effectively educate elders and prevent elder abuse, but also to investigate and prosecute when necessary.
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 scams.
The Department announced that as part of its continuing efforts to protect older adults and bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice it is expanding the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, adding 14 new U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Expansion of the Strike Force will help to coordinate the Department’s ongoing efforts to combat the largest and most harmful fraud schemes that target or disproportionately impact older adults.
In the past year, the Department has notified over 550,000 people that they may be eligible for remission payments. Notifications were made to consumers whose information was sold by one of three data companies prosecuted by the Department and were later victims of “sweepstakes” or “astrology” solicitations that falsely promised prizes or individualized services in return 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 fraudsters perpetrating person-in-need scams and job scams via Western Union. In the past year, the Department has identified and contacted over 300,000 consumers who may be eligible for remission. Since March of 2020 more than 148,000 victims have received more than $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.
Over the past year, the Department pursued cases against the perpetrators of “grandparent scams,” otherwise known as “person-in-need scams.” These scams typically begin when a fraudster, 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 jeopardy and is urgently in need of money. When recently sentencing one of eight perpetrators of a grandparent scam indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal judge described such scams “heartbreakingly evil.” The Department is working with government partners and others to raise awareness about these schemes.
Reporting from consumers about fraud and fraud attempts is critical to law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute schemes targeting older adults. If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833 FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice Hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting or connect them with agencies, and provide resources and referrals on a case-by-case basis. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time. English, Spanish, and other languages are available. More information about the Department’s elder justice efforts can be found on the Department’s Elder Justice website, www.elderjustice.gov.
U.S. Attorney Hurwit also invited Idahoans to contact his Office directly at (208) 334-1211 and ask for Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Mazorol to report incidents of fraud directed at older Americans.
Some of the cases that comprise today’s announcement are charges, which are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.