More charges filed in nationwide fraud scam targeting elderly victims
HOUSTON – A 24-year-old Indian citizen has been taken into custody on charges related to a large nationwide conspiracy to commit mail fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Anirudha Kalkote is set to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dena Hanovice Palermo at 2 p.m. He was incarcerated in Virginia and brought to Texas June 9 to face the charges.
The 12-count superseding indictment charges Kalkote with conspiracy and mail fraud. Also named in the indictment is MD Azad, 25, an illegal resident of Houston, who was originally charged in August 2020. He will appear again in court on the new charges in the near future.
The superseding indictment, returned June 9, accuses Azad and Kalkote of participating in a fraud ring from 2019-2020 which operated out of various cities including Houston. The scheme allegedly targeted elderly victims throughout the United States and elsewhere.
According to the charges, the ring tricked and deceived victims using various ruses and instructed them to send money via wire through a money transmitter business such as Western Union or MoneyGram, by buying gift cards and providing to the fraudsters or by mailing cash to alias names via FedEx or UPS.
One such scheme allegedly involved the claim of providing computer technical support services. The indictment alleges that the scheme generally worked because fraudsters contacted victims by phone or via internet sites directing them to a particular phone number. Once victims contacted them, they were told various stories such as they were communicating with an expert that needed remote access to their computer in order to provide technical support services. The fraudsters then allegedly gained further access to their personal data and bank and credit card information.
Victims typically paid a fee to conspirators for the alleged technical support but were later told they were due a refund, according to the charges. Through paying for “technical support” or through the “refund” process, the ring gained access to the victim’s bank account(s) and credit cards and manipulated the accounts to make it appear the victim was paid too large a refund due to a typographical error. Victims were then instructed to reimburse the ring by various means.
The indictment alleges victims were sometimes re-victimized multiple times and threatened with bodily harm if they did not pay.
Upon conviction, each faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.
Three others have already pleaded guilty in relation to the scheme and are awaiting sentencing - Sumit Kumar Singh, 24, Himanshu Kumar, 24, and MD Hasib, 26 are Indian nationals who illegally resided in Houston.
All five individuals remain in custody pending further criminal proceedings.
The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and IRS-Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States including the Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office of Augusta County, Virginia. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Belinda Beek and Quincy Ollison are prosecuting the case.
The case is brought as a part of the Elder Justice Initiative. Its goal is to support and coordinate the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s older adults.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice launched National Elder Fraud Hotline to help combat fraud against older Americans and provide services to victims. If you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, we encourage you to call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 (833–372–8311).
The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time. Services are available for speakers of English, Spanish and other languages.