Government and Law Enforcement Working Together to Fight Mass Mailing Fraud

Millions of elderly and vulnerable people have been defrauded out of hundreds of millions of dollars

Government and Law Enforcement Working Together to Fight Mass Mailing Fraud
Image: Pixabay
September 23, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), together with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and other law enforcement agencies, has announced that it will be implementing wide-ranging enforcement actions to fight a global network of mass mailing fraud schemes.

In addition, several government agencies and nonprofit groups have announced a public education campaign intended to raise public awareness of the plots and educate at-risk populations and their friends and families about the schemes. The agencies and groups are being led by the DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch and Elder Justice Initiative.

"Consumer education is the best defense"

Millions of elderly and vulnerable people across the United States have been defrauded out of hundreds of millions of dollars due to such plots. The enforcement actions that the DOJ plans to implement include criminal charges, economic sanctions, the seizure of criminal proceeds, civil injunction lawsuits, and execution of search warrants.

These actions comprise only one part of a larger attempt by the DOJ and its international partners in law enforcement to combat fraud plots targeting older Americans as well as other vulnerable victims across the world, including individuals and entities in Canada, France, India, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey, and the U.S.

"Every year, fraudulent mail schemes target millions of Americans with false promises of wealth and riches, swindling hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens," said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. "Today's actions send a clear message that the Department of Justice is determined to hold the perpetrators of these harmful schemes accountable. And they make unmistakably clear that we are committed to protecting our people from exploitation – especially our older citizens, who are so often the focus of these shameful ruses. I want to thank our partners across the federal government for their assistance in bringing these actions, and I pledge the department's ongoing dedication to ending mail fraud."

USPIS Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell concurs. "The law enforcement and civil injunction efforts announced today are just a part of our initiative," he said. "We believe that consumer education is the best defense against these scammers. We can't arrest all of these con artists, so preventing the crime is critical."

The Schemes and the Actions

The mailing frauds involve a complex web of parties located in different places across the world, and each plot follows a similar pattern. Fraudulent "direct mailers" make untruthful letters claiming that the recipient has either won—or soon will win—cash or valuable prizes, or will have good fortune in some other way. The letters state that the recipients only have to send a small amount of money as a processing fee or tax to be able to collect their winnings. They seem to be legitimate: they are usually typed on official-looking letterhead and seem to be addressed personally, though in reality each is a form letter identical to the rest. Some mailings even use fonts that look handwritten.

The enforcement actions include both criminal and civil cases against numerous so-called "direct mailers" who are collectively responsible for numerous such schemes defrauding victims of tens of millions of dollars each year. The actions are also intended to shut down several other parties working with the mailers, including: a printer in India that produces the mailings and organizes bulk shipments to victims in the U.S. ; list brokers who purchase, rent, or sell lists of people defrauded from one direct mailer to another to enable others to target the victim once he or she has fallen victim to one plot; and a payment processor in Canada that has assisted numerous international scammers to access banks in the U.S. and take money from victims for more than 20 years.

"The Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch is working with international and domestic law enforcement through the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group to dismantle these complex frauds through both civil and criminal actions," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, who heads the Justice Department's Civil Division. "And we will continue to work with federal partners and non-governmental organizations to educate the public about this threat to vulnerable consumers."

"The defendants targeted the elderly and vulnerable by selling false promises of cash and lavish prizes," said U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers for the Eastern District of New York. "Not surprisingly, the only good fortune befell the defendants. We will employ every available means, including educating consumers, to protect the public from these schemes."

For more information regarding specific cases, see the official DOJ release.