- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2016

U.S. and Dutch authorities have taken legal action to halt a massive mail fraud scheme they say has duped elderly Americans into paying tens of millions of dollars by falsely promising prizes like lottery winnings or new cars in exchange.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday its filing of a civil complaint seeking to shut down the operation of Dutch companies that oversaw the annual collection of $18 million that victims sent through the mail in response to such solicitations.

According to the complaint, direct mailing companies would send letters to victims claiming that the individuals had won or will soon receive cash or other valuable prizes. The victims were told to send “processing fees” ranging from $15 to $55 to claim the prizes. In reality, the victims never received any prize or payment after sending money to the Dutch companies’ post office boxes.

Authorities say Dutch national Erik Dekker and his two Utrecht, Netherlands-based companies — Trends Service in Kommunikatie B.V. and Kommunikatie Service Buitenland B.V. — operated “caging” services that since 2012 received, sorted and collected the payments mailed by the victims. Over that time, the Justice Department estimates that American victims annually have mailed 530,000 payments containing approximately $18 million to the post office boxes overseen by the companies.

“No one should ever be told they must pay a fee or make a worthless purchase to collect a prize,” said Regina Faulkerson, an inspector in charge with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigation Group. “When that happens, it’s fraud — plain and simple.”

As part of a larger probe into mail fraud schemes operated out of the Netherlands, Dutch authorities raided 10 locations Wednesday, seizing thousands of envelopes filled with cash at the locations as well as pallets of fraudulent letters at one of the Utrecht sites.

The masterminds behind the mail fraud schemes are not believed to live in the Netherlands and therefore were not among the targets, according to the Netherlands Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Division.

“Schemes targeting elderly victims are increasingly international in scope, but geographic distance will not prevent us from seeking justice and holding bad actors accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Mizer.

In the U.S. the Justice Department has sought an injunction to ban Mr. Dekker’s companies from using the U.S. mail system, distributing solicitations or collecting victim payments, or selling lists of victims who have responded to prior solicitations.

U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser on Wednesday approved a temporary restraining order that halts the companies’ activities. He has scheduled a show cause hearing for July 18 in the case.

The injunctions sought by the United States would prevent the defendants from using the U.S. mail to distribute the fraudulent solicitations or collect victim payments, and from selling lists of American victims who have responded to the solicitations. A permanent injunction would allow the U.S. Postal Service to intercept mail heading to the defendants, and return that mail — along with any money being sent to the defendants — to U.S. victims.

The government is seeking an injunction under the Anti-Fraud Injunction Statute to immediately shut down the defendants’ role in the fraudulent schemes.

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