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Largest-Ever Elder Fraud Sweep Ensnares Over 400 Defendants

Attorney General says scammers bilked victims for more than $1 billion

Attorney General William Barr at a podium

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday announced the largest-ever annual sweep of alleged fraudsters accused of targeting older Americans. More than 400 defendants have been charged in the past year, and they are purported to have been behind victim losses surpassing $1 billion.

Foreign-based fraud schemes that victimize older Americans in large numbers were at the center of many of the cases in the sweep. Barr also announced that preventing and disrupting transnational elder fraud is now one of the top priorities of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” Barr said.

According to a senior official at the Justice Department, the cases that are part of DOJ's annual sweep ran the gamut from romance frauds and grandparents scams to computer tech-support scams and Social Security impostor frauds, among others.

At a DOJ elder fraud sweep announced in 2019, there were 260 criminal defendants, making this year's collection of cases the largest in history, the department said. Cases in the new sweep date back to March 2019.

Spanish speakers in U.S. victimized

Among the bad actors overseas were members of a crime ring in Peru that allegedly targeted Spanish speakers, most of them elderly, in the U.S. Victims were threatened with arrest, deportation and the seizure of property for not paying a bill for a product the victims never purchased, a senior Justice official said.

"All of this was lies,” according to the official, who said a number of the defendants in Peru have been extradited.

In Singapore, it was an Internal Revenue Service impersonator who was targeted by U.S. officials and that defendant also has been extradited, the official said. Impersonators claiming to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration and other government agencies con victims into sending money by, for example, concocting a phony financial obligation and threatening them with arrest.

“The good news is most frauds can be prevented. It’s one of few crimes in which potential victims can just say ‘No!’”
— Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale

Team effort led to arrests, success of fraud sweep

Barr spoke in Florida at a U.S. Justice Department Summit on Elder Justice, a half-day event called Keeping Seniors Safe. The meetings are being held in Sun City Center, a retirement community south of Tampa. The summit drew federal officials including White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, state officials and law enforcement representatives. Members of the financial and tech sectors also were on hand.

Thanking DOJ's partners, Barr said the department was “committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America's seniors.”

Two federal agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, were credited with many of the ongoing elder fraud cases in the sweep.

DOJ's Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, which Barr announced last June, also played a significant role. The strike force draws participation from six U.S. Attorneys’ offices: in Atlanta; Brooklyn, New York; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; and Tampa, Florida.

In addition to the elder fraud sweep, Barr also announced two new initiatives:

  • Investigations of about 30 nursing homes in nine states believed to be delivering “grossly substandard care” to residents.
  • A Justice Department National Elder Fraud Hotline to provide support and resources to victims. The number is 833-372-8311 (or 833-FRAUD11). 

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.