A federal court has ordered an individual and 5 companies to stop engaging in a technical-support fraud scheme that is alleged to have defrauded hundreds of elderly and vulnerable U.S. victims, the Department of Justice announced today.
The temporary restraining order issued by the court follows the filing of a complaint by the United States, which seeks both preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the defendants from further victimizing U.S. consumers. The complaint filed by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida was coordinated through the Department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, which Attorney General Barr established last year to combat foreign fraud schemes targeting older Americans.
According to the complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the defendants’ scheme contacted U.S. consumers via internet pop-up messages that falsely appeared to be security alerts from Microsoft or another well-known company. The pop-up messages fraudulently claimed that the consumer’s computer was infected by a virus, purported to run a scan of the consumer’s computer, falsely confirmed the presence of a virus and malware, and then provided a toll-free number to call for assistance. When victims called the toll-free number, they were connected to India-based call centers participating in the fraud scheme. Call center workers asked victims to give them remote access to their computers and told victims that they detected viruses or other malware on their computers. Eventually, the call center workers would falsely diagnose non-existent problems and ask victims to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary services and software.
In an unprecedented collaborative effort, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India took actions in parallel with today’s filing against corporate and individual participants in the scheme located in Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, and Jaipur. CBI, India’s federal investigative agency, took note of the international fraud being perpetrated by these companies operating from various locations in India. CBI registered a criminal case against five companies involved in the scheme and conducted an investigation to identify and locate the perpetrators of the crime. Coordinated search operations were conducted at the offices of these companies and at the residences of the directors of the entities. According to CBI, incriminating digital evidence related to the scheme was collected and seized during the searches.
“Today’s filing reflects the Department of Justice’s continuing commitment to use all tools available to protect seniors from fraud, especially schemes perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Civil Division. “The Department of Justice sincerely appreciates the CBI’s efforts to disrupt and prosecute technical-support fraud, government imposter fraud, and all other schemes directed at the American public.”
“Fraud schemes that target the most vulnerable members of our society, including the elderly, will be not be tolerated in our district,” said U.S Attorney Ariana Fajardo-Orshan for the Southern District of Florida. “Our Office has and will continue to protect consumers through both civil and criminal prosecutions. We urge consumers not to click on any pop-up messages or links that appear on their computer devices claiming that the devices are infected by viruses and at risk of irreversible damage. Consumers should delete those pop-ups and instead contact their software provider or local computer consultant directly.”
“The FBI works with its local, state, federal and international partners to combat technical fraud schemes,” said Assistant Director of the International Operations Division Charles Spencer. “We will continue to collaborate with law enforcement partners in order to hold criminals who engage in this type of deceptive activity accountable. However, we cannot do this alone, therefore we encourage anyone who suspects that they may be a victim of internet related fraud to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.”
“Postal Inspectors are prepared to defend the U.S. Mail from anyone who attempts to use it to defraud American citizens,” said Inspector-In-Charge Delany De Leon-Colon of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group. “Through our partnerships with federal law enforcement agencies and our international counterparts, we’re able to extend our defense of the Nation’s mail across the globe. Today’s action marks a strong step forward towards stopping these ruthless scammers from using the mail to further their scheme,” said De Leon-Colon.
The complaint alleges that Michael Brian Cotter, 59, of Glendale, California, knowingly provided U.S. support for India-based accomplices in furtherance of the scheme. Cotter facilitated the scheme through several companies, including Singapore registered Global Digital Concierge Pte. Ltd., formerly known as Tech Live Connect Pte. Ltd., Nevada registered companies Sensei Ventures Incorporated and NE Labs Inc., New York registered Kevisoft LLC, and United Kingdom registered Kevisoft UK LTD. The temporary restraining order issued by the court today dismantles these defendants’ U.S. infrastructure, such as websites and payment processing relationships, and prohibits the defendants from continuing to facilitate the alleged scheme.
According to law enforcement officials with CBI, “as India’s premier federal investigative agency, CBI reaffirms its commitment for continued close collaboration with the FBI and promoting cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cybercrime and cyber security. CBI has been making concerted efforts to identify and rapidly dismantle any network of transnational cyber frauds operated out of India. This case further reinforces our continued commitment towards safer cyber space for all citizens globally.”
The filed complaint asserts that, since at least 2011, Cotter has worked with co-conspirators in India to operate the alleged scheme, including registering website domains, setting up shell companies, and entering into relationships with banks and payment processors to facilitate the collection of funds from victims of the scheme. Individual victims are alleged to have reported paying hundreds to thousands of dollars to the scheme for unwanted and unnecessary technical-support services.
The complaint seeks an injunction under the Anti-Fraud Injunction Statute immediately shutting down the defendants’ role in the fraudulent schemes in order to protect U.S. victims from further harm. The injunctions sought by the United States would authorize the immediate shutdown of websites used to contact and collect payments from victims, and would enjoin Cotter and the corporate defendants from engaging in telemarketing activity related to computer technical support or accepting payments related to any purported technical support service.
The widespread fraud allegedly committed in this case was brought to the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force’s attention by Microsoft, which often is impersonated by those engaged in technical-support fraud schemes.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Clark thanked the Postal Inspection Service for its investigation of the case, and the FBI’s Economic Crimes Unit and Legal Attaché’s Office in Delhi, India, for their substantial coordination efforts. He also expressed appreciation to Microsoft for apprising the Strike Force of the alleged offenses. The U.S. case is being handled by Trial Attorney Ann Entwistle of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Weinkle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.
The claims made in the complaint are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In January 2020, the department designated “Preventing and Disrupting Transnational Elder Fraud” as an Agency Priority Goal, one of its top four priorities. Later, in March 2020, the department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. The department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.
The department’s extensive and broad-based efforts to combat elder fraud seek to halt the billions of dollars senior lose to fraud schemes, including those perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations. The best method for prevention, however, is by sharing information about the various types of elder fraud schemes with relatives, friends, neighbors, and other seniors who can use that information to protect themselves.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
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