March 3 (UPI) -- Attorney General William Barr announced Tuesday the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.
Prosecutors charged more than 400 defendants in the sweep announced this year for allegedly defrauding seniors out of over $1 billion, far more than the 260 defendants charged in the sweep announced last year, making this year's sweep the largest in history, a Department of Justice statement said.
Still, cases in the new sweep date back to March 2019, AARP reported.
Among the schemes, an impersonator from a foreign country may claim to be a government official, make up a phony financial obligation and threaten arrest to con victims into sending money, an official said.
Barr announced the charges Tuesday at a "Keep Seniors Safe," event at Sun City Center Community Hall in Florida.
He emphasized foreign-based fraud schemes, which represented a large number of cases in the sweep and declared "Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud" to be one of the department's top priorities.
"Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens," Barr said.
At the event, Barr also explained why the issue is personal to him.
"I myself was used as a lure in a scam," Barr told the seniors, explaining that, before he became attorney general, a 1991 official photograph of him from his job in the George H.W. Bush administration was used by scammers offering phony federal grants in exchange for money.
"It was really heart-wrenching. People called in desperate hope that this was real," Barr said. "That crystalized the issue for me, and when I got to the department I wanted to make sure that this was one of our highest priorities to go after this."
FBI Director Christopher Wray also pointed out foreign-based schemes in a statement on the matter.
"The charges announced today demonstrated the great success of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to identify and stop those who are targeting our senior communities from overseas," Wray said. "We're committed to keep our elderly citizens safe, whether they're being targeted door-to-door, over the phone or online."
An interactive map provides state-by-state information on the number of elder fraud cases.
Barr also announced a National Elder Fraud hotline to provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud. The hotline is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).
In a separate announcement, the department also announced investigations into about 30 nursing homes in nine states to see if they're delivering "grossly substandard care," and hold them accountable.