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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Two Defendants Arrested In $10 Million Tech Support Fraud Scheme

Technical Support Scheme Deceived More Than 7,500 Victims Across the United States and Canada, Many of Whom Are Elderly, into Paying for Phony Computer Repair Services

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced charges against ROMANA LEYVA and ARIFUL HAQUE for participating in a conspiracy that for several years exploited elderly victims by remotely accessing their computers and convincing victims to pay for computer support services they did not need, and which were never actually provided.  In total, the conspiracy generated more than $10 million in proceeds from at least approximately 7,500 victims.  LEYVA was arrested today in Las Vegas, Nevada, and will be presented, in the District of Nevada, before Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach.  HAQUE was arrested this morning in Bellerose, New York, and will be presented today before Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang in the Southern District of New York.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, these defendants participated in a sophisticated fraud scheme that 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.  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.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said:  “In a fraud scheme that targeted thousands of elderly victims who were swindled out of millions, the conspirators allegedly posed as tech support to fix computers supposedly infected by malware.  It is our duty as citizens to protect our growing elderly population and it is our duty as law enforcement to investigate and arrest those, like Leyva and Haque, who seek to make a profit through fraud and deception.”

According to the Indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court:[1]

From March 2015 through December 2018, LEYVA and HAQUE were members of a criminal fraud ring (the “Fraud Ring”) based in the United States and India that committed a technical support fraud scheme targeting elderly 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.  Over the course of the conspiracy, the Fraud Ring generated more than $10 million in proceeds from at least 7,500 victims.

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.  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 again.

LEYVA’s roles in the scheme included (1) creating several fraudulent corporate entities that were used to receive fraud proceeds from victims, (2) recruiting others (including through misrepresentations) to register fraudulent corporate entities that became part of and facilitated the activities of the Fraud Ring, and (3) assisting others in setting up fraudulent corporate entities and bank accounts, including coaching them to make misrepresentations to bank employees where necessary.  HAQUE registered a fraudulent corporate entity that was used to receive fraud proceeds from victims on behalf of the Fraud Ring.  HAQUE also provided guidance to a co-conspirator who registered a different fraudulent corporate entity that was part of the Fraud Ring, and deposited fraud proceeds into accounts associated with that entity.

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LEYVA, 35, of Las Vegas, Nevada, and HAQUE, 33, of Bellerose, New York, are each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised HSI’s El Dorado Task Force, Cyber Intrusion/Cyber Fraud Group for its outstanding work on the investigation and the NYPD for their assistance on this case.  He added that the investigation is continuing. 

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Michael D. Neff is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

[1] The entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
Elder Justice
Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 
19-302
Updated September 18, 2019