In the first collaborative action of its kind between the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the two probe agencies have cracked down on an alleged India-run call centre racket which financially duped hundreds of American seniors over the last decade.
"The Department of Justice sincerely appreciates the CBI's efforts to disrupt and prosecute technical support fraud, government impostor fraud and all other schemes directed at the American public", the US Department of Justice said in a statement on Thursday.
According to a federal complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 59-year-old California-resident Michal Brian Cotter provided support to his accomplices in India to trick American citizens into paying thousands of dollars since 2011 for “unwanted and unnecessary technical-support services”.
Cotter’s modus operandi involved contacting US citizens through pop-up messages, which were “false” alerts from companies such as Microsoft, among other well-known names. The pop-up messages claimed that the computers were infected with viruses and malware, which was followed by a computer scan and instructions to call a toll-free number directed to India-based call centres.
“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”, said the complaint.
“Eventually, the call center workers would falsely diagnose non-existent problems and ask victims to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary services and software”, it added.
The calls about the technical assistance to US seniors were made by five companies operating from the Indian cities of Delhi, Jaipur, Noida, and Gurgaon.
The Department of Justice said in its official release that “coordinated” raids were carried out by the CBI at the five locations, during which “incriminating digital evidence” was found on the accused companies. A criminal complaint has been registered against the five firms.
The complaint alleged that the fraud allegedly committed was brought to the attention of US authorities by Microsoft, “often is impersonated by those engaged in technical-support fraud schemes”.
According to the Department of Justice, Cotter ran the racket through registering website domains, setting-up shell companies and entering into relationships with banks and payment gateways to collect money from the victims.