Two individuals were arrested this week in connection with a fraud scheme that manipulated thousands of victims into paying for invented tech services that they didn’t need.
The US Department of Justice announced that the two individuals Romana Leyva, 35, and Ariful Haque, 33, were arrested Wednesday for their alleged participation in the fraud scheme, which involved convincing victims – many of whom were elderly – in both the US and Canada that they needed tech and virus protection services that were neither real nor required.
Between March 2015 and December 2018, both Ariful and Haque were allegedly involved with the fraud ring responsible for the crimes. According to an unsealed indictment, the scheme involved targeting victims with pop-up windows – sometimes under the guise of being a legitimate tech company – that claimed their computer had been infected with a virus and directed them to call a number for technical support. In some cases, the message threatened that if the individual closed the window or shut down their computer, it would either bork their device or result in a “complete data loss.”
Once users contacted the number, they were connected with a fake technician. To convince victims to hand over money, after receiving “permission” from the victim, the fraud ring allegedly remotely accessed the individual’s computer, loaded an anti-virus tool that’s available for free online, and informed the individual that their computer was infected with a virus (which, again, was a lie).
In many cases, the fraudsters were able to convince victims to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the fake services for the supposed issue. The crime ring was able to direct payment methods by leaving a text file with instructions on victims’ computers.
The indictment further alleges that some victims were scammed again by the fraudsters. Contacted by the operation again, victims were told that the company that they’d originally paid for lifetime support was shut down and needed to refund them. After obtaining a victim’s bank account information, the operation “claimed to have paid out too large of a refund, due to typographical error ... and instructed the victim to ‘reimburse’ the fraud ring thousands of dollars, through gift cards,” the indictment alleged.
According to the DOJ, the scheme was able to successfully scam “at least” 7,500 victims out of a combined $10 million (£8 million). Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement that the scheme “preyed on the elderly.”
“The conspirators allegedly caused pop-up windows to appear on victims’ computers – pop-up windows that claimed, falsely, that a virus had infected the victim’s computer,” Berman said. “Through this and other misrepresentations, this fraud scheme deceived thousands of victims, including some of society’s most vulnerable members, into paying a total of more than $10 million.”
Leyva was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas, while Haque was arrested the same day in Bellerose, New York. Both are charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.
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