U.S. Attorney General William Barr, flanked by top law enforcement officials from the FBI and other agencies, announces the largest-ever sweep of elder fraud cases. He spoke Thursday, March 7, from the Justice Department.
The nation’s top law enforcement official on Thursday announced the largest-ever crackdown on fraud against older Americans, highlighting a yearlong effort that led to criminal charges against 225 people here and abroad.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the cases, combined with civil actions taken against dozens of other people, involved more than 2 million victims in the U.S. with losses totaling more than $750 million. Altogether, more than 260 criminal and civil defendants were caught in the enforcement effort, he said.
“Crimes against the elderly target some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Barr said, addressing reporters at a news conference at the Department of Justice.
Barr, flanked by officials from the FBI, Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other agencies, described a double-barreled approach to root out elder fraud, which according to conservative estimates costs older Americans about $3 billion a year.
Barr called elder fraud a “despicable problem” and promised his department would ratchet up efforts to wage an “all-out attack” against such crimes.
Barr was also the attorney general from 1991 to 1993 and noted that his old official portrait was used two years ago by fraudsters on Facebook in a scam promising help obtaining government grants.
“I was a lure, if you can believe that,” he said, describing being besieged with calls at the law firm where he worked from people who wanted him to fulfill his purported promise to send them money.
A Georgia woman told him she’d lost her life savings of $40,000 to the con, according to Barr, who said a TV station broke the story of his image being appropriated and helped him get the portrait off Facebook.
Federal and state authorities focused largely on computer tech support cases, he said. In these, criminals, through a phone call or a pop-up warning on victims’ computers, con them into believing the computer has a virus or has been hacked. Often the bad actors, many from transnational crime groups, masquerade as representatives of legitimate firms, such as Microsoft, Apple or Amazon, according to DOJ.
Victims are persuaded to give the fraudsters remote access to their computers, ostensibly for technical help, then the fraudsters demand quick payment or even steal money or personal information from them.