Capitol Hill in Washington. AP/Press Association Images

US moves in massive crackdown on alleged global mail fraud group with Irish connections

Officials say the group cheats millions of people out of tens of millions of dollars annually.

US JUSTICE AUTHORITIES today unveiled a broad-based effort to dismantle global mass-mailing fraud operations, moving against a huge group with Irish connections.

Officials say the group cheats millions of people out of tens of millions of dollars annually.

They announced criminal charges, economic sanctions, asset seizures and other actions aimed at companies and individuals based in various countries around the world.

The scams followed a familiar pattern, according to the US Justice Department, which said “direct mailers” sent phony letters, frequently to the elderly, claiming the recipients had won cash or prizes that could be collected for processing fees.

Swiss and Singaporean-based outfits allegedly took in $50 million (€44.6 million) to $60 million (€53.5 million) annually on the back of fraudulent claims, some of which purportedly came from world famous psychics.

The Department has designated a Canadian payments processor, PacNet, which has a network of operations in Europe, Asia, Britain and Africa, as a transnational criminal organisation.

This effectively forces it out of the US banking system and hampers its access to global financial networks.

The PacNet Group has addresses in Ireland, Canada and the UK and and subsidiaries or affiliates in 15 other countries.

The Department described it as “the third-party payment processor of choice for perpetrators of a wide range of mail fraud schemes”.

“PacNet has a nearly 20-year history of knowingly processing payments relating to these fraudulent solicitation schemes, which result in the loss of millions of dollars to U.S. consumers,” the department said.

The Irish connection 

Several PacNet Group companies are registered in Ireland.

Legal documents show seven of its companies with addresses in Shannon, Co Clare.

People named in the legal documents are all directors or high-level executives in companies

Of the five with addresses in Ireland, four have an address in Clare and one has an address in Limerick.

In a news conference, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch cited the case of Ercan Barka, 34, a resident of Turkey who was arrested early this month by US postal inspectors in New York as he prepared to board a plane and was later charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Prosecutors say Barca’s mailing campaigns had taken $29 million (€25.9 million) from US victims since 2012.

“The companies and individuals named in these actions operated different parts of mass-mailing fraud schemes in different parts of the world,” Lynch said in prepared remarks.

But they all acted with the same malicious intent: to take advantage of elderly individuals and other vulnerable citizens.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees US economic sanctions, has blacklisted 12 people and 24 entities across 18 countries who are suspected of being involved in or supporting PacNet’s operations.

“PacNet has knowingly facilitated the fraudulent activities of its customers for many years and today’s designations are aimed at shielding Americans and the nation’s financial system from the large-scale, illicit money flows that are generated by these scams against vulnerable individuals,” John Smith, the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s acting director, said in a statement.

© AFP 2016.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald 

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