EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It might look like the women from Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchises have it all, but a recent arrest of one star is shedding light on criminal schemes across the country.
The FBI El Paso is warning Borderland residents to beware of elder fraud that targets people over the age of 60 to give their money to scammers seeking to defraud the elderly population.
On Tuesday, “Real Housewife of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah and her first assistant, Stuart Smith, were arrested and indicted for defrauding elder and tech-illiterate adults using telemarketing schemes, like disrupting and annoying robocalls that many cellphone users regularly receive.
“They are very good at not only being able to identify potential victims, but they’re also very good at working themselves on the internet and through the computers — as well as being very savvy over the phone and in person,” Jeffrey Reisinger, an agent with the FBI El Paso’s financial crime squad, told KTSM 9 News.
Reisinger said it’s difficult to track the prevalence of elder fraud schemes in El Paso and across the country because, oftentimes, victims are too embarrassed to report.
“Even though we’re not necessarily seeing it here, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” he said. “It’s just not being reported.”
Elder fraud is taken very seriously by the federal government once a report is made.
For example, Shah and Stuart are facing charges because they “generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The indictment against Shah and Stuart claim the two knowingly participated in schemes to defraud vulnerable populations using telemarketing and in-person ploys to sell “essentially non-existent” services in an operation that spanned multiple states.
Some of the “services” peddled by Shah and Stuart included bogus tax preparation and website design for elderly victims, many of whom do not own a computer.
According to the DOJ, “At the outset of the Business Opportunity Scheme, certain Participants employed by a purported fulfillment company sent a given Victim electronic or paper pamphlets or provided so-called ‘coaching sessions’ regarding these purported online businesses, but at no point did the defendants intend that the Victims would actually earn any of the promised return on their intended investment, nor did the Victims actually earn any such returns.”
Shah and Smith went to great lengths to conceal their roles by using third-party entity names but ultimately profited from the schemes.
Back in El Paso, the FBI is urging people to be cautious.
“Try not to act quickly when someone calls you on the phone,” advised Reisinger, noting that scammers rely on the element of surprise and raising a victim’s adrenaline in order to distract them.
The FBI has created a list to help people protect themselves:
- Recognize scam attempts and end all communication with the perpetrator
- Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
- Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
- Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings and door-to-door services offers.
- Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
- Make sure all computer antivirus and security software and malware protections are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
- Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
- Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
To report elder or other forms of fraud, click here.