By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — Sixty people are charged in a widespread magazine telemarketing scam that authorities say netted $300 million from more than 150,000 elderly and vulnerable people nationwide.

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald announced the charges Wednesday. She called it the largest elder fraud scheme in the country.

The defendants are from 14 states and two Canadian provinces. Court documents say that over the last 20 years, they used a network of fake magazine sales companies and telemarketing call centers to trick people into making large or repeat payments.

Prosecutors worked with the FBI and postal inspection service to bust what they say was a scheme, charging seniors around the country for magazines they never got and then selling their information.

The charges were typically around $39, but charged repeatedly over time.

“The resulting numbers are staggering — $300 million pilfered from the bank accounts of mostly older Americans who fell victim to these aggressive telemarketing schemes,” FBI special agent in charge Michael Paul said.

After spending a few years in Florida, Bud and Arlis Prescott settled in downtown Minneapolis in Cassia Augustana Apartments. Happy to have each other, they know others who are quarantining alone.

“People are isolated, and they are lonely,” Bud Prescott said.

That’s why he says it’s especially easy to prey on seniors, something he’s very aware of when he answers the phone.

“Depending on what it says, I will hang up right away or I’m very careful about a response. I’m very wary of accepting anything that is offered that I haven’t asked for,” he said. “Just be aware of what’s going on and secondly- know to whom you are responding.”

Prosecutors say the companies operated in Minnesota, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, California, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

Local investigators took on the case, but dozens of people were arrested all over the country.

The advice from investigators if you are a senior, or have a senior in your life, is to check your finances to make sure. Anyone who believes they may be victims should contact the FBI.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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