The Justice Department unveiled the largest nationwide investigation of elder fraud cases, which victimized more than one million people and resulted in losses of over $500 million.

All told, 200 defendants are facing criminal charges.

Other agencies involved in the case include the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspectors.

“We will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “When criminals steal the hard-earned life savings of older Americans, we will respond with all the tools at the Department’s disposal — criminal prosecutions to punish offenders, civil injunctions to shut the schemes down and asset forfeiture to take back ill-gotten gains.”

(Bloomberg News)
(Bloomberg News)

The cases involve criminal, civil and forfeiture actions across 50 federal districts.

“Elder financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse, but it suffers from significant underreporting,” says Liz Loewy, co-founder and general counsel, EverSafe and former chief of the Elder Abuse Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. “The biggest reason that these schemes go on for so long is that exploiters have radar for selecting just the right victims. An older person who is vulnerable due to some degree of mental incapacity is the ‘perfect’ target.”

Defendants have been accused of running a variety of fraud schemes including mass mailing and telemarketing.

“Winners, that’s what so many of the people who received these solicitations in the mail thought they were,” Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell says in the DoJ statement. He is also investigating the schemes. “But they’re not. They are victims of scams that postal inspectors have seen and investigated for decades. In fact, some of the same operators we encountered 20 years ago are back. But so are we.”

Amanda Schiavo

Amanda Schiavo is an associate editor for Financial Planning. Follow her on Twitter at @SchiavoAmanda.