An international investigation of telemarketing fraud schemes has resulted in the arrests of more than 135 people in cases involving more than 5 million victims, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Tuesday.
The fraud cost victims an estimated $1 billion and included such schemes as bogus lotteries, fake sweepstakes and credit cards, offers of nonexistent investments and tax fraud, prosecutors said. Some cases involved so-called "recovery rooms" in which people posing as law enforcement officials offer to help victims recover losses for a fee.
Many of those victimized are elderly. One recent study by AARP of one lottery scheme showed that victims had an average age of 74.
"These cases show how ruthless criminal telemarketers can be in victimizing members of the public, especially the most vulnerable segments of our society," Ashcroft said.
The initiative, dubbed "Operation Roaming Charge," has resulted in the arrests of about 100 people in the United States and 35 in several other countries since it began in January. About 70 people have been convicted on fraud charges so far in the United States and Canada.
In addition to the criminal charges, the Federal Trade Commission has brought 27 civil complaints against deceptive or unfair telemarketing practices. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and U.S. Postal Inspection Service also took civil actions against people accused of telemarketing fraud.
About 190 search warrants have been executed in the United States and Canada, and officials in U.S. states have also taken 279 criminal, civil and regulatory actions as part of the initiative.