PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On the heels of two wins against scammers who were operating out of Rhode Island, federal prosecutors say they are expecting more indictments against people who have stolen money from elderly victims.
Last month, Bishwajeet Jha, a college intern from India who lived in Newport, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a tech support scam that cost victims almost a million dollars.
Separately, a Pawtucket man, Shawn Whitfield, admitted to participating in an international telemarketing scam. Whitfield is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutor Denise Barton said the scam spanned three years.
“[Whitfield] received money from people all over the country,” Barton explained. “He would then take a cut and forward the money on to his co-conspirators, who from our investigation into what he’s pled to, they were in Jamaica.”
Barton said it is critical to catch scam artists like Whitfield and there is a new focus at the Department of Justice to go after these criminals, especially those who target the elderly.
“We are actively investigating a number of cases,” Barton said. “I think over the coming months, you are going to see a few different ways that scams targeting the elderly are going to be charged by this office.”
“We are catching them,” she added.
Oftentimes, cases depend on people coming forward to report the crimes so investigators can then connect the dots.
“They have the evidence,” Barton said. “They have the cell phone numbers. They have the emails.”
“The way we look at these cases, it’s not a one-victim case,” she added. “We start with one victim, but that one victim is critical in helping us learn about other victims and then gain more information from them, which makes a much stronger case against the perpetrator or perpetrators.”
Getting victims to come forward can be a challenge, according to Barton, who says people often feel embarrassed once they realize they’ve been scammed.
“Don’t be ashamed of it,” she said. “If you made a mistake and you sent somebody $100, don’t make it worse. Let us know so we can try and help you and also help others.”