The Justice Department announced today the enhanced collaborations its law enforcement and community partners are taking to stem the tide of fraud schemes directed at certain groups of Americans. On Wednesday, high ranking officials of the department, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and non-profit community groups met to discuss an increase in fraud schemes that intentionally target older Americans and the Latino community.
The public/private group met in anticipation of National Consumer Protection Week (March 1 through 7) and, among a number of continuing efforts, announced that they will be releasing a tip sheet aimed at educating consumers and stopping these targeted schemes.
Consumer fraud affects every U.S. community, but law enforcement has noted an uptick in schemes that prey on the vulnerabilities of specific groups of Americans. Bogus lotteries, mass-marketed “psychic” mailers, and other scams, often perpetrated from foreign soil, have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from seniors. At the same time, call centers in South America have begun calling and threatening Spanish-speaking residents of the United States, extorting them into paying money they do not owe.
“As we approach National Consumer Protection Week, the Justice Department remains steadfast in our commitment to pursue those who commit consumer fraud, particular the invidious schemes that target older Americans and the Spanish-speaking community,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We also recognize that the most important thing we can do to stop these schemes is to help educate the consumers who are being targeted so that together we can prevent these schemes from succeeding in the first place.”
The meeting with national and local nonprofit groups focused on the affected populations and offered an opportunity for the law enforcement community to share intelligence gathered through enforcement and for the non-profit groups to provide insight learned from their members. Officials from the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and FTC distributed materials to organizations in attendance to provide to their constituents in an effort to raise awareness on how to avoid the fraud schemes when confronted with them.
“The FTC works closely with our partners to stop scams,” said Director Jessica Rich of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We coordinate with law enforcement agencies – like the Department of Justice and the Postal Inspection Service – to investigate scams and shut them down, and we offer free materials to teach people in every community how to avoid fraud and report it.”
“Consumer fraud schemes are growing more sophisticated and we are here to share with you what we have learned so that you can pass word on to your constituents,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan F. Olin of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch at Wednesday’s meeting with community groups. “Many more fraud schemes are originating overseas in other countries including Canada, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Israel and Romania.”
Earlier this month, the department achieved a first in one such case. The Jamaican government extradited its first Jamaican citizen, Damion Barrett, wanted on criminal charges in an international lottery scheme that targeted older Americans. Barrett’s co-defendant, Oneike Barnett, was previously apprehended in August 2013 when he visited the United States, arriving at the airport in Orlando, Florida. Barnett pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve five years in federal prison in April 2014.
“Lottery scams perpetrated from Jamaica have been increasing over the past several years,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Ronald J. Verocchio of the USPIS Miami Division, which investigated the Barrett case. “The Jamaican government’s willingness to extradite one of its own citizens provides an important step towards protecting the older Americans that disproportionately make up phony Jamaican lottery victims.”
The department has also made progress in efforts to deter schemes that defraud and extort money from the Spanish-speaking community by obtaining lengthy prison terms for perpetrators. Recent sentences ranging from nine to 17 years in prison have been obtained for defendants convicted of lying to Spanish-speaking consumers about debts they did not, in fact, owe.