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How strike force is taking aim at elder fraud
2016 federal courthouse
Sidney O. Smith Federal Building & United States Courthouse - photo by Erin Smith

A woman recently received a call from a man reporting he was her grandson, claiming he was in the Dominican Republic for a friend’s wedding and needed money.

Lucky for her, her daughter is a Hall County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who works fraud cases and she knew not to fall for it.

“She knows where all her grandkids are, so she pretty much told him no, then he got really aggressive toward her and started cursing at her,” Lt. Angie Miller said. “She kind of obviously knows, because of what I do, not to believe that sort of stuff.”

But not all families are as close or have the same know-how when it comes to scams.

Attorney General William Barr announced in June the creation of a “Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force,” which sought to combine resources from the Department of Justice, the FBI, six U.S. attorneys’ offices and more.

“It doesn’t matter where these criminals live. We’re committed to keeping our elderly citizens safe, whether they’re being targeted door-to-door, over the phone, or online, from thousands of miles away,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement announcing the strike force. “Our new Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force will give us additional resources and tools to identify and stop those who are targeting our senior communities from overseas. If you think you may be a victim of elder fraud, or you know someone who is, please let us know. We want to help.”

The six attorneys’ offices include the Northern District of Georgia and districts in California, Florida, New York and Texas.

The Northern District of Georgia covers 46 northern Georgia counties including Hall County.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 1.49 million fraud reports from consumers nationwide in 2018 resulting in $1.6 billion in losses.

“Of that $1.6 billion, approximately $400 million of the losses were reported by adults that were ages 60 and older,” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Valerie Verduce said during an elder fraud strike force conference call Oct. 30.

2018 fraud reports

U.S.: 1,492,953 totaling a $1.6 billion loss

Georgia: 37,099 totaling a $31.6 million loss

Gainesville metro area: 924, loss not listed

2019 fraud reports (through Nov. 8)

U.S.: 1,254,473 totaling a $1.2 billion loss

Georgia: 30,075 totaling a $21.7 million loss

Gainesville metro area: 712, loss not listed

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Comparing age groups, Americans 80 years and older reported the highest median losses at $1,700, more than four times what people aged 20-29 reported in losses.

In 2018, Georgia ranked No. 2 in the country in terms of the rate of fraud and other reports per 100,000 people. 

The losses are comparative to national averages.

“In 2018, older Georgians reported approximately $10 million in losses, with the median loss figure of about $1,100 per occurrence. It’s slightly less than national, but it’s still a hugely significant loss per occurrence,” Verduce said.

Verduce explained many of these are conservative figures as not all fraud reports had ages listed for the victims.

Locally, Miller said she has seen victims of various scams lose as little as a few hundred dollars and as high as $50,000, which typically are romance scams.

“A lot of those don’t report, unfortunately, because they’re embarrassed or they know there’s not a lot that we can do,” Miller said.

Some banks may reimburse in fraud cases, but not all have the same policies, Miller said.

Elder Fraud Strike Force Coordinator Jolee Porter explained how many of these fraud cases are originating internationally with hotspots including India, the Caribbean, West Africa and the Philippines.

“It’s a priority in the DOJ and with FTC and within the Northern District of Georgia, we are focusing many resources on prosecuting these cases involving these scams. The first line of defense is actually American citizens themselves, elder Americans being educated and protecting themselves,” Porter said.

The strike force listed a number of common scams typically coming through the telephone or computer.

File a complaint

Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at or at 877-FTC-HELP.

In one, an imposter pretends to be someone you trust asking for money. 

Variants involve the fraudsters acting as if they are part of the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service.

The scammers will claim the Social Security number “has been compromised, suspended or was involved in a crime,” and the scammer asks for account information and/or money to fix it, according to the strike force.

IRS scammers claim they will arrest or fine the person if they don’t pay outstanding taxes.

Porter said the IRS scam has been a “huge source of profit for fraudsters.”

Between October 2013 and March of this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has found 14,700 victims losing more than $72 million.

The strike force advised that “legitimate government agencies do not call with threats, promises or demands of money” and to “never provide personal information or passwords over the phone.”

“Gift cards are never used as a form of payment for a legitimate company in terms of paying a debt,” Miller said.

Verduce said the Social Security scam has become increasingly prevalent, “so much so that it has taken over from the IRS imposter scam.”

In 2017, there were 3,200 complaints with roughly $250,000 in losses from this scam.

The next year, there were 10 times as many complaints regarding Social Security scams.

“At the end of (2019), we are looking at maybe 140,000 complaints coming in just on the Social Security scam alone,” Verduce said.

Other scams include tech support, where a person asks for remote access to fix a non-existent computer problem, and lottery/sweepstakes cases, where the scammer claims you need to pay something up front to receive a prize you have won.

Miller said there was recently an Adult Protective Services referral about a man paying $16,000 on a computer scam.

There have been local and federal cases recently involving “romance” scams.

A judge in the Northern District of Georgia sentenced a Newnan man Oct. 31 to 10 years in prison and $1.8 million in victim restitution. The case involved seven defendants and eight identified victims including elderly retirees.

The case involved the defendants other other conspirators allegedly creating phony dating profiles on popular dating websites, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“These conspirators often targeted vulnerable individuals who possessed financial assets, and in some cases spent months cultivating romantic relationships with them through online messaging, text messaging, and voice calls. After gaining their affection and trust, the conspirators, posing as the fake paramours, provided the targeted users with elaborate false stories to cause the users to send them money through interstate wire or online transfers to bank accounts controlled by the conspirators,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

One victim lost more than $600,000.

In Oakwood, police got a tip June 3 from Adult Protective Services about an elderly woman who had been befriended by someone she met online.

“At that time, the victim felt she was involved in a relationship with the person. Oakwood officers confirmed the identity being used by the other party was fictitious,” Oakwood Police Investigator Todd Templeton wrote in an email.

The woman sent money through cashier’s checks and made other purchases totalling at least $25,000.

Arrest warrants were issued for two people from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on charges of financial exploitation of an elderly person.

In 2018, there were $143 million in losses reported in connection to romance scams, with $56 million of that reported by those older than 60, Verduce said.

Miller advised not giving money to people, especially in a dating situation, if you’ve never met them in person.