PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced today that Yahaira Diaz, 33, of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, was charged by Information with aggravated identity theft, mail fraud, and access device fraud. The charges against the defendant stem from her participation in what has been popularly dubbed the “Grandparents Scheme”, a type of elder financial abuse. The charges come one day in advance of “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” on June 15, 2019.
As alleged in the Information, the scheme operated as follows: an individual called an elderly victim posing as the grandchild of the victim, or posing as an attorney representing the grandchild. The caller claimed that the grandchild was in a vehicular accident and was arrested for driving under the influence (or some type of legal trouble). The caller then said that the grandchild needed money for bail or legal representation, and persuaded the victim to send thousands of dollars in cash via overnight delivery service to an address where the schemers retrieved the package. The schemers then continued to call the victim and demand more money until the victim realized that he or she had been defrauded and stopped sending money.
In those telephone calls, to further convince the grandparents to send cash, the co-schemers described the grandchild’s situation as increasingly serious: claiming that the grandchild had been arrested for driving under the influence; that a pregnant woman was involved in the accident; that the pregnant woman and her unborn child were injured or killed; that the grandchild would not be released from prison without additional funds; and that legal and other fees were mounting.
Diaz allegedly played a leadership role in this scheme, which she and her co-schemers perpetrated in Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. For example, she identified and arranged for access to residential locations where her co-schemers instructed victims to send the fraud proceeds. Diaz recruited and controlled additional participants in the scheme who allowed her to use their residences for the receipt of proceeds, and who helped retrieve the packages and shared the proceeds with other co-schemers.
Diaz engaged in numerous incidents of the Grandparents Scheme as well as credit card fraud, which is also charged in the Information. In the Grandparents Scheme, Diaz and her co-schemers defrauded at least 10 elderly victims of at least $158,800 and attempted to defraud those victims of at least an additional $69,000. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 72 years in prison, including a mandatory minimum term of two years in prison.
“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and schemes like the ‘Grandparent Scheme’ are particularly heinous because they prey on a senior’s love for their family,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our seniors from fraud, and my Office will continue to prioritize prosecuting criminals who prey on our elderly residents.”
“Trying to scam strangers out of money is criminal,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. “Specifically targeting elderly victims because you figure they're easy marks is cruel. The FBI will never stop working to shut down elder fraud schemes like this to protect older folks and help them hang on to their hard-earned money.”
“Crimes like these against our elderly citizens are taken very seriously by law enforcement. The Bethlehem Police Department, working with its Federal partners, will investigate, arrest and prosecute individuals involved in criminal scams like these ‘Grandparent Scams,” said Mark DiLuzio, Chief of Police, Bethlehem Police Department. “As Chief, I would like to personally thank U.S. Attorney McSwain and his Office, the FBI, U.S. Postal inspectors, the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office and Bethlehem Police Detectives who all worked collectively and brought this person and her partners to justice. On behalf of all elderly citizens in the City of Bethlehem, thank you!”
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Service, the Bethlehem Police Department, and the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office, and is being prosecuted by Deputy United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen.
An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The Department of Justice is committed to combating elder fraud. The Department’s historic 2018 and 2019 Elder Fraud Sweeps collectively brought criminal and civil actions against more than 500 defendants responsible for defrauding more than $1.5 billion from at least 3 million victims.
The Department of Justice also provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), which has announced a new competitive solicitation addressing enhanced multidisciplinary teams for older victims of abuse and financial exploitation (up to $375,000 each) and funding for a National Multidisciplinary Team Technical Assistance Center (for up to $3 million), which will help facilitate the expansion of elder abuse case review across the nation. The deadline is July 7, 2019.
More information about the Department’s efforts to help American seniors is available at its Elder Justice Initiative webpage. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP.