Federal authorities have charged more than 260 people who bilked over $750 million from elderly Americans in the largest elderly fraud sweep in U.S. history, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Attorney General William P. Barr said the suspects victimized millions around the globe, including more than 2 million people in the United States. This year’s sweep involves 13 more criminal defendants, 28 percent in losses and twice the number of victims as last year, the Justice Department said.
“It is a particularly despicable crime because the people involved are vulnerable and because of their stage life they don’t have the opportunity to recover,” Mr. Barr said at a press conference to announce the results.
He vowed the Justice Department will prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.
The attorney general shared a story in which scammers unlawfully used his image to con elderly victims out of their savings. Mr. Barr said two years ago, an unscrupulous individual posted his official Justice Department portrait from 1992 with promise that he could secure government grants that would reap a windfall for anyone who sent money. The scam was broken up by law enforcement, he said.
Mr. Barr said he received heartbreaking calls at his law office from elderly individuals asking about their money.
“These were desperate calls, some of these people were desperately hoping this was not a scam,” he said.
Criminal, civil and forfeiture actions across the country were included among the cases.
The defendants are accused in a variety of fraud schemes, including tech-support fraud, mass mailing, telemarketing, investment fraud and identity theft.
As part of the sweep, the Justice Department said it took down a tech-support fraud scheme to trick victims into giving remote access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support. In 2018, tech-support ploys generated more than 142,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau has dedicated additional resources to elder fraud threats, including tech-support fraud.
“Victims off these schemes often lose thousands of dollars or more apiece, which can cause significant harm to elderly victims and their caretakers,” Mr. Wray said.
Another scam, known as a money mule, was also part of the crackdown. In a money mule plot, scammers acquire money illegally from their victim and then immediately forward the proceeds to other perpetrators and ringleaders.
The FBI and Postal Inspection Service took action against more than 600 alleged money mules nationwide as part of this sweep.