CBI, US authorities crack down on fraud scheme targeting American senior citizens

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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the US Justice Department have cracked down on a technical support fraud scheme allegedly masterminded by an American citizen working with call centres in several Indian cities over the past decade.

Michael Brian Cotter (59) of Glendale, California, allegedly worked with India-based accomplices on the scheme that is believed to have defrauded hundreds of elderly American citizens, the US Justice Department said in a statement.

The CBI filed a parallel case in India and conducted raids here last month. The agency registered a criminal case against five companies and conducted an investigation to identify and locate the perpetrators, the statement said.

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Coordinated search operations were conducted at offices of these companies and residences of the directors of the entities. “According to the CBI, incriminating digital evidence related to the scheme was collected and seized during the searches,” the statement added.

The US Justice Department described the operation as the first parallel action by the US and Indian governments against defrauding of elderly American citizens.

The statement cited CBI officials as saying that the agency would continue its close collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and promote cooperation with US law enforcement agencies on cybercrime and cybersecurity.

CBI has been working to identify and dismantle networks of transnational cyber fraud operated out of India, the officials said.

In response to the complaint filed in the US, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order that directed Cotter and five companies to stop engaging in the technical support fraud scheme. The complaint was filed by the civil division’s consumer protection branch and the US attorney’s office for the southern district of Florida and the action was coordinated by the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force established last year to combat foreign fraud schemes targeting American senior citizens.

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According to the complaint, those engaged in the scheme contacted US consumers via internet pop-up messages that falsely appeared to be security alerts from Microsoft or another reputed company. These messages fraudulently claimed the consumer’s computer was infected by a virus, and then purported to run a scan that “falsely confirmed the presence of a virus and malware”.

The consumers were provided a toll-free number to call for assistance and were connected to India-based call centres allegedly participating in the fraud.

Call centre employees asked the victims to give them remote access to computers and said they had detected viruses or malware. Then, the employees falsely diagnosed non-existent problems and allegedly asked the victims to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary services and software.

Cotter allegedly 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 UK-registered Kevisoft UK Ltd. The restraining order issued by the court dismantled the US-based infrastructure, including websites and payment processing relationships.

The complaint alleged that, since at least 2011, Cotter worked with co-conspirators in India to operate the scheme, including registering website domains, setting up shell companies, and entering into relationships with banks and payment processors to facilitate collection of funds from the victims.

Individual victims allegedly paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for unnecessary technical support services.

The scheme was brought to the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force’s attention by Microsoft.

Acting assistant attorney general Jeffrey Bossert Clark said: “The department of justice sincerely appreciates CBI’s efforts to disrupt and prosecute technical support fraud, government imposter fraud, and all other schemes directed at the American public.”

“The FBI works with its local, state, federal and international partners to combat technical fraud schemes,” said Charles Spencer, assistant director of the international operations division, FBI.

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