AMSTERDAM (AP) — Dutch prosecutors raided a string of locations and seized cash and hundreds of thousands of fraudulent letters in an investigation into worldwide mail scams that U.S. law enforcement authorities said Thursday defrauded "elderly and vulnerable" Americans out of tens of millions of dollars.
The scams involved sending letters to people around the world, including thousands of Americans, telling them they had won or could win lottery or other prizes and could get their winnings by sending a processing fee or by buying goods or services.
"No one should ever be told they must pay a fee, or make a worthless purchase, to collect a prize," said Inspector in Charge Regina L. Faulkerson of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's Criminal Investigation Group. "When that happens, it's fraud - plain and simple — and Postal Inspectors work to keep those falsehoods out of the U.S. mail."
Video released by the Dutch prosecutors following Wednesday's raids at 10 locations throughout the country linked to six companies and their directors showed law enforcement officials counting stacks of cash from around the world.
Ringleaders of the fraud are suspected of mailing millions of letters to people in countries including the U.S., Britain, France and Japan, Dutch fiscal prosecutors said in a statement.
Dutch authorities made no immediate arrests, but their investigations are ongoing. Prosecutors say the fraud masterminds likely live outside the Netherlands and that the businesses raided are suspected of facilitating the fraud by receiving and processing the money sent by victims.
The Dutch investigation started late last year when a large quantity of letters was intercepted at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.
The U.S. Justice Department announced that a civil complaint has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against a 54-year-old Dutchman, Erik Dekker, and two companies he runs, that were among the locations raided by the Dutch on Wednesday.
According to details of the American complaint, Dekker's companies received and processed payments from the fraud schemes.
Dekker's whereabouts weren't known and he couldn't immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
"As alleged in the complaint, defendants act as the clearinghouses for multiple international mail fraud schemes, taking money from thousands of elderly and vulnerable victims not only in this district but also throughout the United States," U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.
"Together with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and our international partner, the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Division of the Netherlands, we will track down, and stop, the schemes wherever they lead."
U.S. victims typically mailed around $15-$55 to the fraudsters, according to the civil complaint. The U.S. government estimates that American victims mail more than $18 million annually to P.O. boxes linked to the fraud.