Acting U.S. Attorney Puts Focus on Scams Targeting Older Americans During National Consumer Protection Week

ALBANY, NEW YORK – Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon hosted a virtual news conference today with Deputy Chief Robert Wemyss of the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and Erin Mitchell, Director of Engagement for AARP NY, to draw attention to the proliferation of scams targeting older Americans.

Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon stated: “Fraudsters are making a fortune by targeting Americans, particularly older Americans. They seek out seniors.  The scammers tell elaborate lies, often become demanding and threatening, and takeSet featured image advantage of the physical isolation that many seniors have experienced during the pandemic.  Protecting seniors will always be one of my top priorities.  By joining forces and publicizing this important information during National Consumer Protection Week, we will strengthen our defenses against these pernicious scams.”

Postal Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin, of the USPIS Boston Division, stated: “Almost anyone under the right circumstances can fall for a phony offer or promotion, however, older Americans are usually more susceptible than others. Scammers use promises of large financial gains or sometimes even romantic relationships to lure victims in, only to manipulate them into giving their life savings away.  They prey on our older citizens who are trusting, vulnerable and can sometimes unknowingly fall for a scam.  The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our citizens and working hard to prevent more people from becoming further victimized by fraud schemes.”

Erin Mitchell, Director of Engagement for AARP New York, stated: “We know scammers often take advantage of current events, which we’re seeing today with the pandemic.  Criminals are using the uncertainty and worry about COVID-19 in their scams. And now, with the COVID-19 vaccine in high demand, scammers are offering opportunities to skip the line for quicker access—for a fee.  AARP urges all older New Yorkers to remain vigilant and always report suspected fraud.”

Acting Director Greg Olsen stated, “Older New Yorkers are often the targets of scams and financial exploitation. Scammers have become very sophisticated and given the increase in social isolation as a result of the pandemic, there has been an increase in scams and scams associated with the pandemic such as stimulus check scams, community donation scams and more. Consumer protections week is critically important to educate all people on the prevalence of scams and simple tools that can prevent you from becoming a victim.”

Common Scams Include:

  • COVID-19 Scams  – These come in several forms.  Fraudsters pretend that a grandchild or relative is in the hospital with COVID-19 and needs payment immediately or they will be denied medical care; fraudsters pretend to have quicker access to a vaccine; or fraudsters offer fake cures.
  • Government Imposter Scams – Fraudsters posing as government officials, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Social Security Administration, threaten to arrest the victim for failing to pay taxes or claim there is a problem with their account that could be fixed by paying a fee.
  • Lottery Scams – Fraudsters send a notice congratulating the victim for winning a prize or a foreign lottery, but to receive the prize, they must first pay a fee or tax.
  • Romance Scams – Usually started on a dating platform, the fraudster pretends to be interested in pursuing a relationship and then uses that trust to take the victim’s money.

Many of these scams are run by Transnational Criminal Organizations located overseas.  In order to funnel the money from American victims to the fraudsters in the foreign country, scammers often ask victims to pay with gift cards or to send money through money mules.

Money Mules

  • Money mules are individuals who receive money from victims of fraud, deposit it into their bank account, and then forward it on to either another money mule or to the overseas fraudsters.
  • Many money mules know they are helping fraudsters, but others have no idea that their actions allow fraudsters to swindle money from seniors.  Some money mules are actually victims of fraud themselves, especially of Romance Scams.
  • Money mules are often recruited through work-at-home jobs.

 

Awareness and prevention are key.  Please keep these warnings and tips in mind:

  • Spot Imposters.  Don’t send money in response to an unexpected request – whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.
  • Scammers want you to decide quickly.  Slow down, check out the story, tell a friend, consult an expert, or call the local police.
  • Gift cards are for presents, not payments.  If someone asks you to buy a gift card, stop and ask, is this a present for someone I know or a payment for a fee or fine?  If it’s a payment, chances are, it’s a scam.
  • Don’t trust your caller-ID.  Scammers disguise their real phone numbers and may call from “spoofed” numbers that make it seem as though they are calling from your area code.
  • Hang up on robocalls.  These calls are illegal and often the products are bogus.  Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list.  That could lead to more calls.
  • Don’t be a Money Mule.  Look for red flags that a potential work-at-home job might not be legitimate:
    • The job involves collecting money and sending it out but the job posting didn’t require financial experience or education.
    • There are no specific job duties.
    • The company is located abroad.
    • The company uses web-based email (such as Gmail or Yahoo) instead of an organization-based domain.

 

If you think you might be a Money Mule or the victim of an Elder Fraud Scam, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov or call your local FBI Field Office.

Help is also available by calling the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. 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 relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.  The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.

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