Washington, DC - A federal court entered an order of permanent injunction against an individual and five companies in a case against a large-scale technical-support fraud scheme alleged to have defrauded hundreds of elderly and vulnerable U.S. victims, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
The order bars Michael Brian Cotter, 59, of Glendale, California, and four companies — 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 — from selling technical-support services or software via telemarketing or websites.
“The department is committed to protecting vulnerable Americans, particularly America’s seniors, from those who seek to steal their hard earned savings,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Civil Division. “The department is grateful for the cooperation of foreign law enforcement, including India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, in investigating, disrupting, and prosecuting technical-support fraud schemes and other schemes originating abroad and directed at the American public.”
“The Postal Inspection Service is committed to investigating all types of elder fraud,” said Damon Wood, Inspector in Charge of the Philadelphia Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “Fraudsters who scam the elderly and others online use fear and pressure tactics to prey on our most vulnerable Americans from the safety of a computer screen. The Inspection Service is proud of our domestic and international partners who extended the reach of our investigative efforts, shutting this scam down once and for all, and protecting American citizens.”
The complaint filed in October 2020 alleged that Cotter worked with co-conspirators in India from at least 2011 to 2020 to operate a technical-support fraud scheme. The scheme allegedly contacted U.S. consumers via internet pop-up messages that falsely appeared to be security alerts from Microsoft or another well-known company. The pop-up messages fraudulently claimed that the consumer’s computer was infected by a virus, purported to run a scan of the consumer’s computer, falsely confirmed the presence of a virus and malware, and then provided a toll-free number to call for assistance. When victims called the toll-free number, they were connected to India-based call centers participating in the fraud scheme. 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. Eventually, the call center workers would falsely diagnose non-existent problems and ask victims to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary services and software.
The complaint asserted that 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 the collection of funds from victims of the scheme. Individual victims payed hundreds to thousands of dollars to the scheme for unwanted and unnecessary technical-support services.
Under the terms of the consent decree of permanent injunction entered, the defendants agreed to be permanently barred from, among other things, offering for sale via telemarketing or website any technical-support service or software and advertising via computer pop-up messages. The consent decree also transfers ownership of 19 domain names alleged to have been used as part of the technical-support scheme to the United States, so that those domains can no longer be used as part of the fraud scheme.
The widespread fraud allegedly committed in this case was brought to the attention of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force by Microsoft, which often is impersonated by those engaged in technical-support fraud schemes.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Clark thanked the Postal Inspection Service for its investigation of the case, and the FBI’s Economic Crimes Unit and Legal Attaché’s Office in Delhi, India, for their substantial coordination efforts. He also expressed appreciation to Microsoft for apprising the Strike Force of the alleged offenses. The U.S. case is being handled by Trial Attorney Ann Entwistle of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Weinkle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In January 2020, the department designated “Preventing and Disrupting Transnational Elder Fraud” as an Agency Priority Goal, one of its top four priorities. Later, in March 2020, the department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. The department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the act.
The department’s extensive and broad-based efforts to combat elder fraud seek to halt the billions of dollars senior lose to fraud schemes, including those perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations. The best method for prevention, however, is by sharing information about the various types of elder fraud schemes with relatives, friends, neighbors, and other seniors who can use that information to protect themselves.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed 7 days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.