United States Attorney Erica H. MacDonald has announced three separate indictments charging 60 defendants for their roles in a $300 million nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that targeted elderly and vulnerable victims. The charges include conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and violating the Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act of 1994 (the “SCAMS Act”). The defendants are located in 14 states, 16 judicial districts, and two Canadian provinces.
Three of the women charged reside locally, in Oregon County:
BONNIE LEE COLBERT, 56, of Alton, Missouri, a telemarketer, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and violating the SCAMS Act. Colbert was arrested yesterday.
YVONNE PATTERSON, 60, of Thayer, Missouri, owner and operator of a Missouri-based company involved in fraudulent magazine sales, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and violating the SCAMS Act.
JESSICA MARIE PRINCE, 40, of Thayer, Missouri, call center manager, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and violating the SCAMS Act.
Patterson and Prince have not yet been arrested.
According to allegations in the indictments and documents filed with the court, over the past 20 years, the defendants devised and carried out a telemarketing scheme to defraud more than 150,000 victim-consumers located across the United States, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable. The scheme was carried out by a network of dozens of fraudulent magazine sales companies located across the United States and in Canada.
The companies operated telemarketing call centers from which their employees made calls using deceptive sales scripts designed to defraud victim consumers by inducing them—through a series of lies and misrepresentations—into making large or repeat payments to the companies. The indictments allege that the defendants used fraudulent sales scripts to carry out their scheme.
Many of the defendants used a fraudulent “renewal” script in which the telemarketers falsely claimed to be calling from the victim-consumer’s existing magazine subscription company about an existing magazine subscription package. The telemarketers often claimed—falsely—to be calling with an offer to reduce the monthly cost of an existing subscription.
In reality, the company had no existing relationship with the victim-consumers and was actually fraudulently signing the victim-consumers up for expensive and entirely new magazine subscriptions. The effect was that a single consumer went from having one magazine subscription to, at times, more than a dozen, all with different fraudulent magazine companies, each “sold” under the auspices of “reducing” the consumer’s monthly rate.
“This case represents the largest elder fraud scheme in the nation. More than 150,000 elderly and vulnerable victims across the United States have been identified in what is essentially a criminal class action,” said United States Attorney Erica H. MacDonald. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where fraudsters are willing to take advantage of seniors, who are often trusting and polite. It’s my hope that this prosecution is a call for vigilance and caution. Combatting elder fraud and abuse is one of the Justice Department’s top priorities and I applaud our investigative partners for their grit and dedication in tackling, at the systemic level, this widespread fraud.”