With Christmas and the holiday season fast approaching, it would be plausible to assume that the number of good deeds done to others would increase. Not so, as a group of women have recently pleaded guilty to defrauding a total of 183,000 elderly individuals out of $335 million. One of the women who pleaded guilty lives in Andover, Minnesota, and she has been reported to have run a company that cheated individuals out of seven million dollars. In total, there are 60 defendants from across 14 states. Their charges include conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and violations of the SCAMS Act of 1994. Many of the defendants were owners or executives of companies that claimed to sell magazine services. All three women who pleaded guilty admitted to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Over two decades, many elderly individuals were coerced into paying large sums for expensive magazine subscriptions that they never made. This is the most massive elder fraud case in the nation, with over 60 total defendants across 14 states. The telemarketers would falsely tell the individuals that they would pay off the outstanding balance on their nonexistent magazine subscription. Their condition was that the individual pay a lump-sum in exchange for the paid off “debt.” The elderly individuals were often subject to staged, angry calls and threats of legal action if they did not produce a lump-sum to pay for the fictitious magazine subscriptions. The Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act of 1994 was designed to protect the elderly from such scams. This is the first time in Minnesota that this act has been enlisted since it was signed into effect.
The telemarketers would also call the elderly pretending to be from an individual’s current magazine company. They would then issue false statements, claiming that the magazine company would give them a way to reduce their monthly payment. However, the scammers were signing the individual up for a fake subscription, which would charge the individual an expensive monthly fee. Often, a victim could have false subscriptions to upwards of a dozen magazine “companies.”
The penalty for conspiracy to commit mail fraud is a federal felony, as is wire fraud. Both charges carry harsh penalties. Mail fraud and wire fraud convicts may be subject to fines of up to $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to twenty years. To convict the defendants of their charges, the clear intent of fraud must be proven. Both charges are serious and dealt with at the federal level, so these charges are punished severely. In response to the violation of the SCAMS Act, the offenders are required to pay restitution to the victims and relinquish to the United States all property derived from the proceeds gained from the victims.
Essentially, mail fraud is a means to steal information, money, and valuables from someone. Wire fraud is essentially using the same approach, except over the phone. In this specific case, the mail and telemarketing were used to coerce the elderly into paying for magazine subscriptions. There are ways to both detect and protect yourself from mail fraud.
Ensure that you are not receiving packages that you did not order or give out your information to prize-giving services, which may be fraudulent. Taking mail directly to the post office is also another way to ensure that your mail is not sitting around in a mailbox and able to be stolen. Although mail may seem like a trivial matter, a lot of personal information is disclosed through the postal service. It is also crucial to ensure that you know your billing cycle and that no excess bills are placed into your mailbox.
Wire fraud is perhaps the more prevalent means of defrauding individuals. If you receive a suspicious call from an individual and they ask for your credit card information, social security number, etc., you should not answer their request. Hang up the phone. An example would be an individual calling pretending to be a company, saying that they need a social security number to verify your personal information. As a general rule of thumb, always be suspicious of a telemarketer or various individuals calling who you do not know.
If you have questions about mail or wire fraud scams, call the BK Law Group and speak with a knowledgeable attorney.