CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Federal prosecutors have broken up an international fraud operation that stole more than $3,000,000 from one of the nation’s most vulnerable generations and federal prosecutors say a Huntington woman played a key role in it.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, United States Attorney Mike Stuart broke the news. Patricia Dudding, 68, of Huntington was indicted on 12 counts and charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud and unlawful money transactions, according to Stuart’s office.
Dudding was believed to be working as a “money mule.” According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a money mule is someone who transfer illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another.
In the indictment, officials alleged that Dudding acted as a money mule for a Nigerian scammer, “Lucas,” who she met online in early spring 2018 and communicated frequently with by email and text message.
“Egregious. This is the largest elder fraud scheme ever prosecuted in the history of West Virginia and our work continues,” Stuart said during the press conference. “This case is significant on a national and international level.”
Stuart said money mules play critical roles in facilitating fraudulent schemes. The money mules transfer illegally acquired money on behalf of another party.
Officials say Dudding targeted the elderly. Victims can be found in 6 countries. In the United States, victims are spread throughout 20 states.
SOT: Wade Fleming, United States Secret Service
“This investigation involved vulnerable people, people that were lonely, sending money to other people that ended overseas,” explained United States Secret Service’s Wade Fleming.
According to Fleming, more than$1.9 million dollars have been recovered and will be distributed back to victims. Fleming called it a “silver lining” of sorts.
The investigation is still ongoing and could result in additional charges in the future. If convicted on all counts, Dudding faces up to 20 years in prison, according to Stuart’s office.
Stuart stressed the importance of protecting oneself against scams. He said it is important that people never give their credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information out online.
He also urged people to be skeptical all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research.
“If something sounds too good to be true, it most definitely is.”