The United States Department of Justice this week announced the arrest of two individuals charged for participating in a long-term tech support fraud scheme.
The two, Romana Leyva and Ariful Haque, exploited elderly victims for years by remotely accessing their computers and tricking them into paying for computer support services they did not need. Not only that, but the conspirators never provided their victims with the promised services.
Overall, the schemers were able to defraud at least approximately 7,500 victims of more than $10 million.
The indictment (PDF) that was unsealed in Manhattan federal court alleges that, between March 2015 and December 2018, Leyva and Haque were members of a criminal fraud ring based in the United States and India, and which targeted victims in the United States and Canada.
The schemers mainly focused on tricking victims into believing their computers were infected with malware, and then deceiving them into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for phony computer repair services.
As part of the scheme, the fraudsters caused pop-up windows to appear on victims’ computers. The windows falsely claimed that the computers were infected, instructing victims to call a particular telephone number for technical support. In some cases, they would also threaten victims that the system could be damaged if restarted or shut down.
In some instances, the pop-up windows would also include the corporate logo of a well-known, legitimate technology company. The phone numbers the victims were directed to, however, were not associated with the company.
The purported technician remotely accessed the victim’s computer and ran an anti-virus tool that is freely available on the Internet. They would also ask the victims to pay several hundred or thousand dollars, depending on the precise “service” victims were supposedly purchasing.
Leyva, 35, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was in charge with creating fraudulent corporate entities to receive fraud proceeds from victims, recruiting others to register such entities, and assisting others in setting up fraudulent entities and bank accounts.
Haque, 33, of Bellerose, New York, registered such a fraudulent corporate entity that was then used to receive fraud proceeds from victims, provided guidance to a co-conspirator who registered a different entity part of the scheme, and deposited fraud proceeds into accounts associated with that entity.
Leyva and Haque are each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each of these charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.