In brief: The FBI has arrested two tech-support scammers on charges of defrauding over $10 million from more than 7,500 victims, most of whom were elderly, from March 2015 through December 2018.
Romana Leyva, 35, of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Ariful Haque, 33, of Bellerose, New York were arrested on September 18 and charged with one count of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
It’s alleged that the pair used the old but still popular technique of utilizing malicious websites to show pop-up ads that falsely warn people their computers are infected with viruses, malware, adware, etc., and that the only way to fix them is to call the fake tech support number, where operators charge for a repair service that doesn’t do anything.
These fees, which came as yearly, lifetime, or one-time payments, ranged from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
"In at least some instances, the pop-up threatened victims that, if they restarted or shut down their computer, it could 'cause serious damage to the system' including 'complete data loss'," states the court documents.
Sometimes the victims were scammed twice. After paying the initial fees, scammers made follow-up calls to the victims claiming the original support company had gone out of business. A refund was offered, but it was later claimed that an error had occurred and too much had been paid back. Victims were then asked to send in the difference using gift cards. Similar ‘overpayment’ tricks are common in work-from-home, vehicle rental, and home buying scams.
Of the 7,500+ victims who fell for the scam, the vast majority were elderly users who wouldn’t have realized they were being deceived.
Leyva and Haque, who allegedly set up companies to receive the payments and recruited others into the scam, are now awaiting trial.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that 281 people had been arrested in an operation targeting email scammers.