NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee resident received $3,400 from local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents and local law enforcement officers on Wednesday. The money was returned as the result of a successfully completed joint investigation against fraudulent telemarketers by a multi-agency, U.S-Canada initiative called "Project COLT."
Although there are many scam variations, in these cases, the callers fraudulently represent themselves as lottery officials. The scammers tell unknowing or elderly victims they have won the lottery and must pay fees and service charges to be able to collect their fictitious winnings. ICE agents warn that con artists often pose as lawyers, customs officials, police officers or lottery company officials to bilk their victims out of millions of dollars.
The Tennessee telemarketing scheme victim, Elizabeth Mathis, who agreed to be identified, submitted the following statement to help inform others about how to protect themselves from fraudulent telemarketing offers:
"I am a longtime resident of Tennessee and was unaware of how involved these schemes can be and how professional the scam-artists appeared that led me to believe this was an actual offer and legal chance to win. The calls appeared to be legitimate as the telemarketers seemed to know about me and my family. I didn't know how this scheme worked until ICE agents returned a portion of my funds that were seized in the fraudulent telemarketing scheme and told me about the illegal practices of these telemarketers and how many victims do not come forward to educate the public. If you have any questions about similar offers, I recommend you call your local police department and ICE, as they can help protect you from becoming another victim of this fraudulent trade. I'm convinced that if you are a victim you can make a difference by reporting this to ICE and they will keep everything confidential. Please remember, they cannot put a stop to this deceptive practice without our help. I was a victim and am now trying to help others. So, please help me put an end to this criminal network by reporting it, if you are a victim and by checking with authorities before you participate."
Since its inception in 1988, Project COLT has seized and returned more than $25 million to U.S. and Canadian victims of telemarketing fraud. ICE has initiated numerous complex criminal investigations due to Project COLT efforts, resulting in 26 U.S. grand jury indictments and 161 U.S. and Canada-based arrests. In addition, Canadian law enforcement authorities have executed more than 50 search warrants and shut down 44 Western Union branch offices involved in telemarketing fraud conspiracies.
Telemarketing fraud has become one of the most pervasive forms of white-collar crime in Canada and the United States, with annual losses in both countries in the billions of dollars. These criminal organizations are heavily involved with international and violent organized crime, including the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang and, as such, represent a significant assault on the U.S. homeland and upon the financial security and livelihood of its citizens, according to Raymond R. Parmer, Jr, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New Orleans,
"This case is a good example of the outstanding cooperation between ICE HSI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because of this cooperation, fraudulent telemarketers and other criminals are discovering how difficult it is for them to hide their illegal activities from authorities," said Parmer. "We are dedicated to identifying and dismantling these types of criminal operations wherever and whenever we find them." Parmer oversees a five-state area which includes Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.
HSI agents work to promote public safety and national security by protecting the revenue of the United States., tracing various money trails leading into and out of the country, interdicting illicit drugs, preventing the export of U.S. military munitions/equipment and high technology items to embargoed countries, deterring illegal immigration, preventing immigration-related crimes and removing criminals who are unlawfully present in the United States.