DoJ Announces Largest Sweep Of Elder Fraud Cases In History

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  

DoJ

More than two million Americans, largely seniors, were victimized by more than 260 defendants from around the globe in these cases. Total alleged losses from the elder fraud financial schemes were over three fourths of one billion dollars. 

This DOJ interactive map provides details on its cases.

An increasingly more common form of elder fraud is the technical-support (tech-support) scam, noted Shari R. Pogach, NAFCU regulatory paralegal.

“This is where criminals trick victims into giving remote access to their computers while pretending to give technical support. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), older adults are the hardest hit by such scams. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received nearly 143,000 reports with a loss of $55 million on tech support scams in 2018,” Pogach said.

Consumers 60 and over filed more loss reports on tech-support scams from 2015 to 2018 than on any other type of fraud reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network. The median individual reported loss to tech-support scams was $400, however, people 60 and over reported a 25% higher median loss of $500, Pogach said. 

Several Different Scams

Pogach explained tech-scam frauds are done in several ways: the criminals make telephone calls and claim to be computer technicians associated with a well-known company or may use internet pop-up messages to warn about non-existent computer problems. They might claim they have detected viruses or other malware on a victim’s computer. They then pretend to be “tech support” and ask the victim to allow remote access to his or her computer. Eventually, they diagnose a non-existent problem and ask for payment for unnecessary services.

“The problem is that money isn’t the only thing people can lose with tech-support scams. People hand over control when they give the scammers remote access to their computer. Scammers can then steal sensitive information or install spyware to gather information. People have even been persuaded to log into their bank accounts whereby the scammer can then move funds remotely,” Pogach said. 

The FTC has developed a resource webpage and infographic for consumers that explain how to spot, avoid, report and recover from such scams.

Other Scams

Although tech-support scams appear to be the popular scam in defrauding older adults, other schemes to defraud the elderly are still very much in use, Pogach said. 

Some examples include:

  • Sending supposedly personalized direct mass mailings on official-looking letterhead promising cash, valuable prizes or good fortune if the recipients sent back a payment for processing fees or taxes
  • Operating a “Grandparent scam” or “relative in distress scam,” convincing seniors that their grandchildren or relatives were in trouble in a foreign country and money was needed to resolve the problem
  • Posing as agents of a U.S. government department or agency and telling victims they had won large monetary prizes in sweepstakes contests that required a sum of money in order to receive the prize
  • Acting as a third party attorney, contacting businesses and elderly individuals in an attempt to collect a so-called outstanding debt by sending a counterfeit check to the victim for deposit and requesting the victim then wire funds to an account overseas in Asia
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