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US cracks down on US$180m mail fraud astrology scam

[NEW YORK] The architects of an alleged US$180 million mail fraud scam have agreed to stop advertising on behalf of psychics, clairvoyants or astrologers as part of a settlement with US prosecutors, the Justice Department said Monday.

Eight individuals and entities in Canada, Hong Kong, France and Switzerland had been charged in a civil case with marketing false claims via US mail to the elderly and other vulnerable consumers.

The alleged scammers claimed that psychics had a "specific personalized vision" of how to achieve great wealth, including by winning the lottery. Recipients were urged to purchase products and services, the Justice Department said.

The messages were sent in "identical, mass produced form letters" that targeted the "desperate, elderly and infirm," the department said.

It said the scam garnered payments totaling more than US$180 million from more than one million Americans.

"To line their own pockets, the defendants preyed upon the superstition and desperation of millions of vulnerable Americans," said US Attorney Robert Capers.

"We will use every means at our disposal to protect our citizens from fraudulent schemes like this, that target the lonely, the ill, and the elderly."

Under a consent decree, the eight defendants agreed to a permanent injunction on mail solicitations with claims about astrology, winning the lottery, bringing good luck or receiving an inheritance.

The agreement also authorized the US Postal Inspection Service to return any money or personal checks detained by the US agency.

AFP