Washington (CNN) - The Justice Department on Tuesday asked a federal judge to shut down a scheme involving companies in New York and Arizona that connect hundreds of millions of robocalls across the country each month.
In two first-of-their-kind filings, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn requested temporary restraining orders against five companies and three individuals who allegedly bridged spam calls -- most of which originated from India -- into the American telecommunications system.
Foreign fraudsters have increasingly used robocalls to impersonate US government officials, including from tax and immigration agencies, as they try to scare those who pick up the phone into revealing sensitive information, the Justice Department said Tuesday. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been bilked from unsuspecting Americans as a result.
"Not only are the calls an annoyance but for elderly and vulnerable Americans they are a serious problem, often causing devastating financial harm," said Jody Hunt, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These landmark filings are the first ever of their kind reflecting the department's commitment to use every available tool to stop fraud."
Judge Brian Cogan on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order against a Long Island man and his three companies, ordering them to immediately stop transmitting the robocall traffic, which was referred to as a wire fraud.
A judge has not yet ruled on a similar Justice Department request targeting an Arizona man and woman and their two companies.
CNN has reached out to the accused companies for comment.
On Tuesday, a Justice Department official called them "significant players" in the robocall industry. Criminal charges in the alleged scheme are still on the table, officials said, adding that an investigation was ongoing.
Tuesday's requests for restraining orders represented the "fastest method for us to act to shut down these ongoing schemes" while the investigation continues, another official said.
The Justice Department will also work with law enforcement partners in India and around the world to try and identify and prosecutor the originators of the robocalls, Hunt said.