CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee resident received more than $8,400 from special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on Wednesday, following a joint investigation against fraudulent telemarketers.
The investigation was part of a multi-agency, 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 would tell unknowing or elderly victims they had won the lottery and must pay fees and service charges to be able to collect their fictitious winnings.
According to ICE HSI special agents, the con artists often pose as lawyers, customs officials, police officers or lottery company officials, in order to bilk their victims out of millions of dollars.
"This case is a good example of the outstanding cooperation between HSI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New Orleans. "Because of this cooperation, fraudulent telemarketers and other criminals are discovering how difficult it is for them to hide their illegal activities from authorities. We are dedicated to identifying and dismantling these types of criminal operations wherever and whenever we find them."
Since its inception in 1988, Project COLT has seized and returned more than $25 million to U.S. and Canadian victims of telemarketing fraud. Furthermore, ICE HSI 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.
Many people are unaware of how complex these telemarketing schemes can be and how official looking presentations may lead individuals to believe there is an actual offer and a legal chance to win. Letters and phone calls may appear to be legitimate, as the telemarketers may know a lot of information about citizens and their families.
Many Americans don't know they have been duped until special agents return a portion of the funds that were seized in the fraudulent telemarketing scheme.
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.
ICE HSI special agents work diligently 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.
ICE HSI special agents recommend that anyone with questions about telemarketing offers should contact their local police department and/or ICE HSI, to prevent becoming a victim of fraud.