Former Bank Branch Manager Sentenced To Prison For Tech Support Fraud Scheme That Exploited The Elderly
Technical Support Scheme Deceived Victims Across the United States and Canada, Many of Whom are Elderly, into Paying for Phony Computer Repair Services
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that defendant ARIFUL HAQUE was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for participating in a technical support fraud scheme. This conspiracy exploited victims, including elderly victims, by remotely accessing their computers and convincing victims to pay for computer support services that they did not need, and which were never actually provided. As part of this scheme, HAQUE registered a purported technical support company, which defrauded more than 100 victims located across the United States and Canada. HAQUE previously pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, who imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Ariful Haque participated in a conspiracy that caused pop-up windows to appear on victims’ computers—pop-up windows that claimed, falsely, that a virus had infected the victim’s computer. Through this and other misrepresentations, this fraud scheme deceived scores of victims across the country into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to the perpetrators for computer support services they did not need. Thanks to our partners at Homeland Security Investigations, this scheme has been dismantled and another participant has been sentenced to prison.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Information, court filings, and statements made in court:
From approximately November 2017 through June 2019, HAQUE was a member of a criminal fraud ring (the “Fraud Ring”) based in the United States and India that committed a technical support fraud scheme that exploited score of victims located across the United States and Canada, including in the Southern District of New York. The Fraud Ring’s primary objective was to trick victims into believing that their computers were infected with malware, in order to deceive them into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for phony computer repair services.
The scheme generally worked as follows. First, the Fraud Ring caused pop-up windows to appear on victims’ computers. The pop-up windows claimed, falsely, that a virus had infected the victim’s computer. The pop-up window directed the victim to call a particular telephone number to obtain technical support. In at least some instances, the pop-up window threatened victims that, if they restarted or shut down their computer, it could “cause serious damage to the system,” including “complete data loss.” In an attempt to give the false appearance of legitimacy, in some instances the pop-up window included, without authorization, the corporate logo of a well-known, legitimate technology company. In fact, no virus had infected victims’ computers, and the technical support phone numbers were not associated with the legitimate technology company. Rather, these representations were false and were designed to trick victims into paying the Fraud Ring to “fix” a problem that did not exist. And while the purported “virus” was a hoax, the pop-up window itself did cause various victims’ computers to completely “freeze,” thereby preventing these victims from accessing the data and files in their computer—which caused some victims to call the phone number listed on the pop-up window. In exchange for victims’ payment of several hundred or thousand dollars (depending on the precise “service” victims purchased), the purported technician remotely accessed the victim’s computer and ran an anti-virus tool, which is free and available on the Internet. The Fraud Ring also re-victimized various victims, after they had made payments to purportedly “fix” their tech problems.
The Fraud Ring operated through at least 15 fraudulent entities. In November 2017, HAQUE registered one of these fraudulent entities in New York State. HAQUE’s entity defrauded more than approximately 100 victims as part of this scheme. As part of his involvement in the fraud, HAQUE opened U.S. bank accounts to receive funds from victims, deposited victim checks, received a victim complaint, and repeatedly provided a co-conspirator in India (“CC-1”) with authentication codes so that CC-1 could wire funds out of these bank accounts. HAQUE, a former bank branch manager in New York City, also tried to use his banking experience to further the scheme, including by advising CC-1 that it was “[n]ot a good idea to deposit” certain checks, some of which would risk the involvement of “the Feds.” Moreover, on occasion, HAQUE also assisted another co-conspirator (“CC-2”), who had registered a different fraudulent entity that was part of the Fraud Ring, as well. In total, as he admitted in his plea agreement, HAQUE is responsible for losses exceeding $600,000.
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In addition to his prison term, HAQUE, 36, of Queens, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, forfeiture of $38,886.32, and restitution of $470,672.16.
HAQUE’s co-defendant, Romana Leyva, was previously sentenced to 100 months in prison, three years of supervised release, forfeiture of $4,679,586.93, and restitution of $2,707,882.91.
Mr. Williams praised the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”)’s El Dorado Task Force, Cyber Intrusion/Cyber Fraud Group for its outstanding work on the investigation. Mr. Williams also thanked the New York City Police Department for its assistance on this case.
This matter is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Jilan J. Kamal are in charge of the prosecution.