PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- A Rhode Island man was one of 250 people charged in one of the largest international telemarketing schemes targeting the elderly in history, the Rhode Island District Attorney's office said Thursday.
Shawn Whitfield, 47, of Pawtucket, was arrested on a federal criminal complaint that charged him with mail fraud, conspiracy, wire fraud and international money laundering.
According to court documents, Whitfield participated in a telemarketing lottery scam originating out of Jamaica that targeted elderly Americans. The documents reveal that the scammers led victims to believe they won the lottery, but the cash prizes they had won would not be released without upfront payment of taxes or fees.
The DA's office said between April 2015 and Jan. 2018, Whitfield collected approximately $98,100 in payments from at least 47 individuals in 23 states. The majority of those funds were collected by Whitfield and transferred electronically to people in Jamaica.
Investigators said between Jan. 2017 and May 2017, there were 2,167 successfully completed incoming phone calls to Whitfield's cell phone from multiple telephone numbers, and 417 successfully completed outgoing phone calls to multiple telephone numbers in Jamaica.
Whitfield is not the only person being investigated in the elder fraud scheme. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that 250 defendants from around the world have been named in criminal, civil and forfeiture fraud cases in 50 federal districts. Sessions said these defendants allegedly victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom are elderly.
Of the defendants, 200 were charged criminally. Sessions said the elder fraud scheme caused losses totaling more than half a billion dollars.
"The Justice Department and its partners are taking unprecedented, coordinated action to protect elderly Americans from financial threats, both foreign and domestic," Sessions said. "[Thursday's] actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are."
Sessions said the schemes ranged from mass mailing, telemarketing, investment frauds and even individual incidents of identity theft by guardians. He said while a number of cases involved transnational criminal organizations that defrauded hundreds of thousands of elderly victims, other involved single relatives who took advantage of an individual victim.
Sessions said many of the cases illustrate how an elderly American can lose his or her life savings to a relative, guardian or stranger who gains their trust.
Anyone who believes they are a victim or know a possible victim of elder fraud should call 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit the Federal Trade Commission website to report a complaint.