Posted on: January 13, 2021, 09:28h.
Last updated on: January 13, 2021, 09:28h.
A 50-year-old Las Vegas woman received a three-year federal prison sentence Wednesday for her role in a $9 million criminal scheme that targeted mostly elderly and other vulnerable victims who received fraudulent mailers claiming they won prizes.
In addition to the prison time, Andrea Burrow was also sentenced to three subsequent years of supervised release. The court also ordered her to forfeit $272,000, according to a US Department of Justice release. U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro handed down the sentence in a Nevada federal district court.
Prosecutors sought a nearly five-year prison term. They did so because they claimed her criminal behavior started well before 2010, when this case originated. Court documents also show federal authorities seized more than $237,000 from a Bank of America safety deposit box and her Las Vegas residence in February 2018.
The mail scheme sent bogus prize announcements to individuals. The letters claimed victims would receive a large cash prize if they paid a fee, typically between $20 to $30. Burrow, authorities said, opened the mail, sorted the payments, and kept track of those who submitted payments in a database. People who mailed payments were then targeted for additional prize scams.
Nine Charged in Case
Burrow is the first of nine people charged in the scheme to be sentenced. She entered a guilty plea on a conspiracy to commit mail fraud charge in August. She and five others were indicted in November 2019. Those individuals, Mario Castro, Jose Salud Castro, Salvador Castro, Miguel Castro, and Jose Luis Mendez, are scheduled to stand trial in June.
Three others entered guilty pleas to a conspiracy charge in 2019.
Federal authorities say they have paid extra attention to cases like these that target seniors through the postal service.
This case highlights the importance of reporting these scams to authorities, so law enforcement agents like our Postal Inspectors can have the information necessary to help bring justice to hundreds of thousands of victims through these large, successful cases,” said Inspector in Charge Delany De Léon-Colón of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group in the release.
The FBI’s Elder Fraud page says that the sweepstakes prize scam is one of several that defraud seniors out of more than $3 billion annually.
They’re often marks because, as the FBI says, “they tend to be trusting and polite. They also usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.”
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Often, if something seems too good to be true – like an unexpected letter claiming you’ve won thousands of dollars – then it usually is.
The FBI urges individuals who receive such mailings to check them out on the Internet. Enter the company’s name, address, and contact information in a Google search. In most cases, other people will have submitted complaints about those companies or individuals.
Individuals who believe they or a loved one have been targeted for a sweepstakes scheme are urged to call their local FBI field office. They also can submit information online at tips.fbi.gov.