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U.S. Attorney’s Office Hosts Financial Crimes Conference in Wheeling



U.S. Attorney’s Office Hosts Financial Crimes Conference in Wheeling

|Photo provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of West Virginia| United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld, left, speaks with Chief BSA/AML Officer & Director of Investigations at WesBanco Bank Jill Sheppard, right.

Financial professionals throughout West Virginia gathered at Wesbanco Bank to learn how to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable populations from financial scams during the Mountain State Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering Conference.

The conference, hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia, was devised to teach bank officials about the “latest and greatest” trends in economic crimes and the steps they can take to prevent and report them, according to U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.

Ihlenfeld explained Tuesday’s event served as an educational resource for those on the “front lines” of financial criminal activity, which includes bank officials, credit union officials, security brokers, casino employees and other institutions subject to the Bank Secrecy Act.

The conference covered how these individuals can identify fraud, protect people from becoming victims and react when someone becomes a victim.

During the day-long event, law enforcement officers, federal prosecutors, FBI agents, IRS criminal investigators and Homeland Security officials informed attendees about the various financial scams prevalent today. These scams include romance scams, elder financial abuse and money laundering performed by drug traffickers and human traffickers.

“We have an all-star panel of presenters here today meeting with bank officials across the state,” Ihlenfeld said. “It’s important for us and law enforcement to talk to them (bank officials) to go over recent trends that we’re seeing in criminal activity and to share with them what we’ve learned through investigations here in West Virginia and across the country.”

Ihlenfeld noted a rise in financial fraud occurring in West Virginia due to the state’s per-capita population being one of the nation’s oldest and the trusting nature of residents. Regarding fraud committed among older West Virginians, Ihlenfeld explained that the Treasury Department divides the fraud into two categories: “elder thefts” and “elder scams.”

Elder thefts are committed by someone the elder knows, such as a loved one or caregiver, gaining access to their checkbook and personal information. Elder scams are perpetrated by a stranger or an imposter pretending to be something or someone else to gain money and personal information from the elder.

Another category of financial scam Ihlenfeld drew attention to is romance scams, which fall under imposter scams. In these scams, a victim develops a connection to someone on an online dating platform. As the relationship deepens, Ihlenfeld described an investment scam often occurring where the perpetrator convinces the victim they’ve developed the relationship with to invest with them.

“One of the greatest frustrations for banking officials is that, when they talk to these individuals they know are being scammed to convince them not to send money to the scammer, that person doesn’t want to listen,” noted Ihlenfeld. “They believe the relationship is real and they’re sometimes in love with that person, so it’s very difficult to convince someone not to engage in that type of financial activity.”

The conference will help bank officials not only identify when financial crimes are occurring but also help financial professionals properly file Suspicious Activity Reports when they suspect financial fraud.

“One thing we’re emphasizing at the conference is helping to identify criminal activity that perhaps wouldn’t be obvious to them because they’re not investigators,” added Ihlenfeld. “There’s always a new way that criminals are trying to enrich themselves, so we’re sharing everything that we possibly can without compromising any ongoing investigations.

“Hopefully, attendees will be able to identify those things and say next week, ‘Hey, I remember what that Assistant U.S. Attorney said about that scam, and that’s exactly what I’m seeing here,’” continued Ihlenfeld. “Their next step would be to call me and see if something can be done.”

Ihlenfeld advises residents to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 304-234-0100 if they believe they or someone they know is getting scammed.

“Another part of what we’re doing today is encouraging bank officials and the public to contact us any time they think there’s some sort of financial crime happening, so we can intervene sooner rather than later,” noted Ihlenfeld. “The sooner we get involved in someone like this, the more likely it is we’re going to be able to stop the bank accounts from being drained and people being victimized even more than they already have.”

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