International Phone Scammers
In Georgia, the Northern District Court has sentenced a couple, Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel, 36, and Chaitali Dave, 36, for aiding and abetting international phone scammers who target senior citizens and vulnerable individuals. The couple also laundered over half a million dollars for the India-based phone scammers between May 2019 and January 2020.
The phone scammers impersonated federal agents to mislead unsuspecting victims and elders into believing their Social Security numbers have been implicated in criminal activity – this was false. At the slightest hint of panic, the scammers threatened victims with arrest and or freezing of their assets. Then they would promise to make the trouble go away if the victims paid a sum of money. To avoid detection, the scammers typically used individuals, like Patel and Dave, to collect cash and launder the money. In doing this, the scammers demand utmost secrecy from victims who are none the wise – a government agency would never do this.
Besides direct calls and threats, the scammers also called unsuspecting victims and posed as tech support, and charged victims bogus fees for technical assistance. Other times, the scammers misled victims into providing remote access to their computers. The scammers then collected personal and financial information, which they used to access victims’ bank accounts.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said that the couple was convicted and sentenced on money laundering charges. Chaitali Dave will spend twenty (20) months incarcerated and pay $320,550 in restitution. She is subject to three years of supervision upon release. Likewise, her husband, Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel, will spend two years and six months in prison and pay $259,217 in restitution. Upon release, he will spend two years under supervision.
Commenting on the sentence, Acting U.S. Attorney, Kurt Erskine, said the defendants were nabbed in ongoing attempts to crack down on local fraud networks working with international scammers. Erskine then reiterated the Department of Justice’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting individuals who facilitate foreign-based scams.
Likewise, Gail Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, also issued a stern warning to individuals yet to face justice.
“My office will aggressively investigate and work to hold those accountable who collect and transmit money from Social Security imposter scam victims,” said Ennis.
The investigation, arrest, and prosecution of the couple was the culmination of a cross-jurisdictional and interagency partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, El Dorado Task Force (New York), Aiken Department of Public Safety (South Carolina), Naperville Police Department (Illinois), Lexington County Sheriff’s Department (South Carolina), Rocky River Police Department (Ohio), Polk County Sheriff’s Office (Florida) and Henrico County Police Division (Virginia).
Officials have warned residents never to provide money or personal information to unknown callers posing as technical support, federal agents, or offering vaccine cards. Persons who receive suspicious phone calls must take steps to protect themselves, such as confirming the identity of unknown callers on georgia.phonenumbers.org.
Other scam prevention measures include using services like Robokiller and YouMail to filter scam callers and performing reverse phone searches on information websites like Spydialer and Zlookup. These services are anonymous and available on any internet-enabled device.
If the caller’s identity and information got through the search do not match up, hang up and report a suspected scam to Social Security, the Federal Trade Commission complaint center, or report the call to the Federal Communications Commission.
The Department of Justice maintains that legit government agencies or officials will never threaten you with immediate arrest or other legal action unless you paid a sum in cash or alternative payment methods like retail gift cards, wire transfers, or internet currency. The Georgia Consumer Protection Division explains various telemarketing scams and how to protect yourself from them.