Special to Iredell Free News
U.S. Attorney Dena J. King announced the civil forfeiture and return of cryptocurrency worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that was stolen from an older adult victimized by a government imposter scam.
This is the latest public legal action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in its ongoing efforts to combat fraudsters seeking to financially exploit the elderly.
According to allegations contained in the civil complaint, in August 2021, fraudsters likely operating from overseas contacted by telephone the victim, who is an elderly Asheville resident, claiming to be with the “Office of the Inspector General.” The fraudsters deceived the victim into believing his personal information had been used to facilitate a drug trafficking and money laundering scheme, and as a result all of the victim’s assets would be frozen.
One of the imposters, who identified himself as Agent James Hoffman, told the victim that he was required to deposit funds into a secure government account until the government verified that the victim was not involved in criminal activity. The imposters further demanded all of the victim’s personal identifying information (PII) and details regarding his financial accounts.
According to the filed complaint, the imposters directed the victim to use hundreds of thousands of dollars of his retirement funds to purchase Bitcoin through Coinbase Global Inc. (Coinbase). On August 31, 2021, 12.164699 Bitcoin, worth approximately $574,766, was transferred from the victim’s Coinbase account to the account controlled by the imposters.
Coinbase and the FBI ultimately identified the transfer as possible elder financial fraud. Following an investigation and successful civil forfeiture proceedings, the seized cryptocurrency was forfeited to the United States and will be returned to the victim.
“Government imposter scams are pervasive and can be financially and psychologically devastating for those who fall prey. Thankfully, in this instance, the fraud was detected quickly and the stolen funds will be returned to the victim. Unfortunately, the majority of these cases do not share a similar ending,” said U.S. Attorney King. “Law enforcement and federal prosecutors will continue to use all tools at our disposal to make sure that thieves do not get to keep criminal proceeds, but public awareness and education remain key, especially when it comes to protecting older adults from becoming victims. I urge everyone to learn how to spot imposter scams and help warn others.”
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney King commended the FBI for its work in this case and thanked cryptocurrency exchanges and entities and financial institutions operating in the Western District of North Carolina for their cooperation and ongoing efforts to detect and report financial fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Bain-Creed, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, handled the civil forfeiture proceedings and Trial Attorney Jane Lee of the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section assisted with remitting the assets to the victim.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, through its Elder Justice Initiative, continues to combat financial fraud against older Americans by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors, educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud, and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners.
Some examples of financial scams targeting seniors are:
♦ Lottery phone scams – Scammers persuade seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before they can receive lottery winnings.
♦ Grandparent scams – Scammers convince seniors that their grandchildren are in trouble and need money to pay rent, repair a car, or make bail.
♦ Romance scams – Scammers lull victims into believing that they are in a romantic relationship and that the scammers need money to travel to the U.S. or for some other purpose.
♦ IRS or government imposter scams – Scammers pose as IRS or other government officials claiming that the victims owe the government money.
♦ Sham business opportunities – Scammers convince victims to invest in lucrative business opportunities or investments.
Many of these schemes involve not only scammers stealing money from seniors but also using seniors as unwitting financial “money mules” to transfer criminal proceeds stolen from other fraud victims.
To avoid falling victim to a financial scam:
♦ Don’t share personal information with anyone you don’t know.
♦ Don’t pay a fee for a prize or lottery winning.
♦ Don’t click on pop-up ads or messages.
♦ Delete phishing emails and ignore harassing phone calls or texts.
♦ Don’t send gift cards, checks or money orders, wire money, make cryptocurrency payments or give your bank account information to a stranger.
♦ Don’t fall for a high-pressure sales pitch or a lucrative business deal.
♦ If a scammer approaches you, take the time to talk to a friend or family member.
♦ Keep in mind that if you send money once, you’ll be a target for life.
♦ Remember, it’s not rude to say, “NO.”
♦ A good rule of thumb is, if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.
If you have been contacted by a scammer or believe you have fallen victim to a scam please file a report with:
♦ The Justice Department’s Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-Fraud-11 (1-833-372-8311).
♦ The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via their website or by calling 877–FTC–HELP (877-382-4357).
♦ The FBI, for law enforcement action at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/report-fraud.
♦ The National Elder Fraud hotline was created for the public to report fraud against individuals who are age 60 or older. The hotline is open seven days a week. For more information about the hotline, please visit https://stopelderfraud.ovc.ojp.gov/.