GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN —A civil forfeiture of over $79,000 that was stolen from an individual victimized by a “debt elimination services” scam, has been returned to the victim.

Criminal organizations engage in a variety of scams with the intention of convincing unwitting victims to send money to locations or bank accounts based in the United States or overseas. One type of scam involves purported debt elimination services, where the fraudsters offer to pay off the victim’s debt obligations for an upfront fee that is considerably less than the underlying debt. The fraudsters induce the victims by paying off small increments of debt in the beginning to gain trust, and eventually, the victims pay larger upfront fees while the underlying debt remains unpaid.

“The victim in this case lost more than $79,000 in a debt elimination scam, one of many types of scams criminals use to separate people from their hard-earned money,” said James A. Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. “The return of those funds would not have been achievable without the cooperative efforts of FBI agents and federal prosecutors in the Western District of Michigan. Forfeiture of ill-gotten gains not only takes money from criminals, but it is among our most powerful tools to make victims whole.”

According to allegations contained in the civil forfeiture complaint filed in U.S. District Court (attached), in September 2021, fraudsters contacted the victim by phone, offering a debt elimination service, which was a scam. Throughout the scam, the victim made upfront “fee payments” that totaled $79,760, while the victim’s underlying debt was never paid off. Following an investigation, these fraud proceeds were seized by the FBI from various bank accounts, forfeited to the United States, and ultimately returned to the victim   back...