Justice Department announces largest-ever elder fraud crackdown

The Justice Department on Thursday said it charged more than 225 individuals in the last year in connection with fraudulent scams that target elder Americans ages 60 and older.

Attorney General William Barr, in his first press conference as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, touted the department’s successes in its largest-ever nationwide crackdown on schemes that “prey upon our senior citizens.”

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“This is despicable. … It is despicable because the people involved are vulnerable,” Barr said Thursday, adding that the Justice Department will “prosecute an all-out attack on this kind of crime.”

The cases identified by the Justice Department, in a joint effort with the FBI, targeted Americans age 60 and older, collected more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, and involved more than 2 million victims—including former CIA Director and FBI Director William Webster.

Webster, 90, and the only individual to lead both the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency, was targeted in a fraud scheme that, if successful, would have forced him to send $50,000 to the fraudster.

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“I am intensely conscious as what it means to be older and to be potentially a victim,” Webster said Thursday, explaining the incident.

Webster was contacted by a man with a Jamaican accent who told him he had won tens of millions of dollars—but first, needed to send $50,000 to cover the taxes on his Mega-Million lottery prize. Webster, in turn, called the man back the next day, in a reverse operation, with the FBI and Justice Department listening in.

“Our elder fellow citizens deserve our support and our protection,” Webster said Thursday. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they are not defrauded and that they are protected.”

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Justice Department officials said the scams focus on people from across the nation. Officials also said they are committed to working to identify the money stolen from victims, and ways to return it to them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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