Elder fraud has become a priority for federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida with the passage of a 2017 federal law combating financial crimes targeting seniors and the implementation of the Elder Justice Initiative by the Department of Justice.
Elder Fraud Prosecutions are on the Rise in the Southern District of Florida
With a large population of retired seniors living in South Florida, it’s no surprise the Southern District of Florida is a hot spot for elder fraud prosecutions.
As recently as November 21, 2019, four Georgia residents had their initial appearances in South Florida on charges related to their alleged involvement in an international scheme to defraud retirees of their veterans and social security benefits.
According to allegations in the indictment, between May 2012 and July 2017, the defendants and three other individuals participated in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration by fraudulently redirecting retirees’ benefits to accounts controlled by them.
The scheme, which was international in scope, involved conspirators in Jamaica, Georgia, and Florida. The conspirators allegedly obtained the personal identifying information of veterans and social security beneficiaries and used that information unlawful access and gain control of beneficiaries’ accounts at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and/or Social Security Administration. After doing so, the conspirators redirected the benefits to bank accounts, as well as prepaid debit cards and accounts, which they controlled. The subjects then withdraw the funds from ATM machines or transferred funds to other accounts, for their own personal use.
Why is there an Increase in Elder Fraud Prosecutions?
Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. The mission of the Department’s Elder Justice Initiative is to support and coordinate the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s seniors.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law in October 2017, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors.
What Does Elder Fraud Look Like?
Financial frauds and scams against senior citizens that are being prosecuted through this initiative take on various forms, including:
An increasingly common form of elder fraud in which criminal defendants are charged with tricking victims into giving remote access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support.
Transnational Mass Mailing Fraud
In this type of fraud, defendants sent direct-mail letters falsely promising cash, valuable prizes, or good fortune if the letter recipients sent back a payment for purported processing fees or taxes.
The letters appeared to come from legitimate sources, typically on official-looking letterhead, and falsely seemed that they were personally addressed to each recipient. In reality, the perpetrators of the schemes never sent a victim letter recipient anything of value, but instead simply kept victim payments for their use and enrichment.
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.
2018 Elder Fraud Sweep
In February 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida announced the largest ever coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in the Department of Justice’s history involving more than 250 charged defendants around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly.
The cases included criminal, civil, and forfeiture actions across 50 federal districts. Of the defendants, 200 were charged criminally. In each case, offenders engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors. In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused losses of more than half a billion dollars.
In the Southern District of Florida a total of 20 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving over $103 million.
2019 Elder Fraud Sweep
The Southern District of Florida remained a hot spot for elder fraud in 2019. In March, Attorney General William P. Barr and multiple law enforcement partners announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history, surpassing 2018’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. The Department of Justice took action in every federal district across the country, through the filing of criminal or civil cases or through consumer education efforts. The Southern District of Florida had the highest number of filed elder fraud cases in the country.
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.