NEW YORK - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents returned $14,700 to two elderly local residents who fell victim to telemarketing con artists operating from Canada. A 93-year-old was scammed out of $11,500, and an 82-year-old was defrauded out of $3,200. ICE returned the money with the assistance of the Queens District Attorney's Office's Elder Abuse Project Unit.
The money was returned to the victims following an investigation by a multi-agency joint U.S.-Canada initiative called "Project COLT." Although there are many scam variations, in these cases, the callers fraudulently represented themselves as lottery officials. The scammers told the elderly victims they had 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.
Project COLT was formed in 1998 to identify, disrupt and dismantle telemarketing fraud operations in the United States and Canada. Project COLT members include the following law enforcement agencies: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Surete du Quebec (Quebec Provincial Police), Montreal Police, ICE, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
"Don't be fooled by scam artists. These criminals prey on people's insecurities, especially the elderly," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "Be very suspicious of anyone asking for money so you can collect prizes. Together with our law enforcement partners, ICE will do our best to put this criminal enterprise out of business."
The fraudulent telemarketers often tell the victims that they have to pay for service charges, federal or provincial taxes, customs duties, handling, insurance or other charges, and ask the victims to send the funds via mail, courier, or more commonly by wire-transfer companies, such as Western Union or money gram. Scammers often are able to receive the transferred funds by using false identification. Agents on these cases report that the con artists often pose as government officials to convince their victims to send money.
Project COLT includes a unit of officers who intercept funds and work to prevent further victimization through public education. They also investigate these cases to bring to justice those who commit the fraud.
Project COLT members have formed partnerships with Canada Border Services Agency, Canada Post Corporation, Federal Express, Purolator, United Parcel Service, DHL and other companies to assist with intercepting funds and their return to victims.
Project COLT intercepts about $1 million (US) annually. These funds are returned to victims and instructed how they can avoid future victimization.
Before sending a single cent to any telemarketers, the public should first call the toll-free Project COLT Hotline at 888-495-8501.