Seven people have been charged in a federal grand jury indictment, accusing them of a conspiracy to steal $11 million from 50 victims in west Michigan and around the country, authorities announced Tuesday.
Most of the victims were senior citizens, said Mark Totten, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan in a statement.
“Elder fraud schemes prey on some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “It’s critical to raise awareness of elder fraud to help protect our older loved ones from these types of crimes. My office is committed to fighting all types of elder abuse in our community.”
According to the indictment filed last week in U.S. District Court and unsealed Tuesday, the scam ran from 2020 through 2022.
The victims received a pop-up or other message on their computers warning about a virus infecting their devices and urging them to call a number for help, the court filing stated.
“In one version of the scam, victims were told that their bank accounts had been compromised and they needed to withdraw all of their cash and give it to fake ‘federal agents’ for safekeeping,” Totten’s office said.
“In another version, victims were told that their computers had been infected by a virus and they needed to pay for technical support. In a third version, victims were told that they had been identified in a criminal investigation and needed to turn over money to clear their names.”
The victims met in person with “agents,” mailed boxes of cash to addresses the scammers provided, made wire transfers to the suspects’ bank accounts or used gift cards, according to the indictment.
One of the defendants, Mckhaela Katelynn McNamara, 27, of Flint and Jayesh J. Panchal, 54, of Hicksville, New York, are alleged to have made six trips to meet a 70-year-old victim in Lake County, Michigan, to collect $398,000 in late 2021.
A third defendant, Everette Jhmal Thibou, 30, of Tampa, Florida, allegedly helped arrange the meetings, according to the indictment.
The filing lists four other U.S.-based members of the conspiracy who allegedly collected proceeds: Pragneshbhai M. Patel, 51, of Amityville, New York; Vijaya C. Shetty, 52, of Jackson Heights, New York; Jmyla Elaine Sha’taria White, 28, of Thonotosassa, Florida; and Jorrel Tyler Jackson, 31, of Riverview, Florida.
Also this year, two alleged members of the conspiracy in India were arrested, federal officials said.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI; Homeland Security Investigations, New Orleans, Louisiana; and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Other agencies involved in the probe included the FBI’s Legal Attaché New Delhi; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana; the New Holland, Pennsylvania, Police Department; the Tennessee Highway Patrol; DEA Chattanooga; FBI New York; and FBI Tampa.
“Today’s indictment reflects the commitment of the FBI and our partners to protect older Americans from financial scams,” said Devin Kowalski, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office. “These defendants allegedly defrauded victims by preying on their vulnerabilities.”
Source: Detroit News