State of Financial Crime 2023 Report

Fraudster Faked Tax Returns and Cashed Grandmother’s Pension Checks

Financial Crime Knowledge & Training

A Chicago woman has been convicted of fraud and tax offenses after cashing her dead grandmother’s pension checks and creating false tax returns.

The Justice Department reports that Eunice Salley (aka Eunice Sally Dobyns, aka Oya Awanata-Bey, aka Oya Awanata) was found guilty of 29 counts including pension fraud, embezzlement, mail fraud and tax charges.

The court heard that Salley, a paid tax return preparer, prepared and filed 22 false income tax returns with the IRS on behalf of clients in 2016 and 2017.

Seeking more than $1m in false refunds, the tax returns contained fictitious wages, withholdings, medical, charitable and employment expenses. Clients had to pay 50% of their refund to Salley, along with her regular preparation fee.

Salley also cashed in 33 pension checks, worth $14,131, for her dead grandmother between 2013-2017, depositing them into one of six bank accounts she controlled. Several times she notarized and submitted affidavits under the name of her grandmother, who died in 2009.

Sentencing is due on July 21st 2022 and Salley faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for mail fraud, five years for each count of theft from an employee benefit plan, three years for each count of aiding and assisting the filing of a fake tax return, and three years in prison for filing a false tax return.

Elder Fraud Typology

Fraud has been cited by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as one of its national AML/CFT priorities, reflecting its persistence as one of the biggest financial crime challenges firms must grapple with.

And fraud affecting older adults is an increasing concern for agencies. Each year millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme, with the FBI estimating that elder fraud causes more than $3bn in losses each year.  

The Justice Department has set up an Elder Justice Initiative to support older citizens. It estimates that annually over 10% of those aged 65 and older in the US experience some form of elder abuse. 

In February, a Grand Jury indicted a New York resident in an alleged grandparent scam, alleging that he retrieved packages containing cash sent by individuals victimized by grandparent scams in several states.

Jean-Richard Audate, 35, was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

It is alleged he and others posed as a grandchild, family member or attorney in phone calls to elderly victims. They would convince them that a family member had been arrested, jailed, or was in financial and legal distress and urgently needed cash. Victims were told to send cash payments via FedEx or UPS to addresses provided by the fraudsters.

New Haven Police began to receive reports from several other states about elderly residents being defrauded and told to send money to addresses in New Haven. Investigations led to Audate, who it is alleged visited many of the addresses and retrieved packages of money which contained between $7,900 and $150,000 in cash.

Audate was arraigned and released on $10,000 bail. 

Spotting Elder Fraud

It is critical for compliance teams to calibrate their transaction monitoring alerts to help detect elder fraud, keeping in mind firms’ customer profiles and wider risk-based approach. The use of adverse media categorization as a KYC tool is also important to help ensure that risk profiles are continuously updated. 

Adverse media checks can also help ensure firms aren’t inadvertently onboarding a new customer who has committed elder fraud in another jurisdiction.

FinCEN has compiled a list of red flags that might indicate elder fraud, including sudden changes in banking behavior, changes in an elderly person’s signature, and non-payment of bills.

You can find out more about the financial exploitation of the elderly in our Knowledgebase article.

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Originally published March 4, 2022, updated March 4, 2022

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