Attorney general announces elder fraud crackdown

Even the attorney general has been a victim.

March 7, 2019, 1:10 PM

In announcing the largest-ever Justice Department crackdown on elder fraud on Thursday, Attorney General William Barr highlighted a memorable example of how the scams work.

He recounted how, when 95-year-old William Webster picked up the phone, on the other end was someone who told him he'd just won millions of dollars and a new luxury car.

The catch: Webster would have to send him $50,000, as the Washington Post first reported.

The only problem for the scammers was that Webster was not one of their typical elderly victims. He had served as both director of the FBI and CIA - and with that, had lots of contacts in law enforcement. With his help, authorities eventually flipped the script on the scammer.

The Websters joined Barr Thursday to tell their story.

"He basically said he was going to kill me," Lynda Webster said at a news conference with Barr. "He proceeded to tell me, what my blood would look like on my white house when my head was shot off." He also seemed to know we were out the night before and when I got nastier and nastier he then threatened to burn down our house and kill us both."

"I know how they feel when they're caught in a difficult situation," William Webster said earlier at a roundtable Barr hosted at the Justice Department.

The attorney general said DOJ is going to after these fraudsters.

"This is a particularly despicable crime because it's a massive and growing problem. And it's despicable because the people involved are vulnerable and because of their stage in life don't have the opportunity to recover and so these losses are devastating to them," Barr said.

"They picked on the wrong person," Barr said. "The Websters got law enforcement involved and those fraudsters are behind bars."

Webster, a former federal judge, said anyone can be targeted by scammers and urged younger people to keep an eye on their elderly relatives. In his case, it took four years of "waiting and watching," for the scammer to come to the United States.

He's currently serving a six-year prison sentence.

PHOTO: Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA director, looks on before a game on Aug. 7, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA director, looks on before a game on Aug. 7, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Justice Department said victims were targeted based on their advanced age and that the schemes lead to financial loss for victims.

Victims lived across the country -- from California to Rhode Island -- and the sweep led to 225 defendants getting charged.

The most common fraud, authorities said, was a "technical support" scam based in India.

"That scheme operates by fraudulently inducing U.S. consumers and others around the world to purchase phony or otherwise misrepresented technical support services related to computers and in certain cases to make further payments based on additional fraudulent misrepresentations," according to court documents from one of the many cases that DOJ highlighted.

PHOTO: Screenshots of tech support schemes released by the Department of Justice.
Screenshots of tech support schemes released by the Department of Justice.
Department of Justice

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 142,000 consumer complaints were registered as a result in 2018.

Barr said even he had been a victim of one of the scams in 2017. While he was not attorney general at the time, fraudsters asked for money using his old official portrait.

Barr highlighted his story at his round table.

"People took my official Justice Department portrait from 1992, so I was looking pretty good in 1992 and they put it up on Facebook and other online sites and I was telling people as the former Attorney General I had access to special federal grant money and if they just sent some money I could tell them how to get some major grants," he explained.

Barr said he had the pages taken down, but from time to time even leading up to when he was nominated to be Attorney General he would get calls from people around the country which he called "heartbreaking."

Barr was featured in a ABC Affiliate WJLA story about the topic.

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