Indian national in Colorado sentenced to five years for scamming the elderly

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An Indian national living in Colorado was sentenced to five years for stealing money from vulnerable elderly victims by tricking them into turning over bank information or sending money directly to him.

United States Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason R. Dunn announced Jan. 24, 2020, that Safder Iqbal, 28, an Indian national, was sentenced to serve 60 months (5 years) in federal prison followed by 3 years on supervised release for participating in several scams involving call centers.

Iqbal was also ordered to pay $377,889.35 in restitution to the victims.  He was remanded into custody immediately after the sentencing hearing. The prison sentence was pronounced by U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martinez.

According to court records quoted in the press release, including what Iqbal stated in his plea agreement, the defendant travelled to the United States from India in April 2018 to work at a hotel in Colorado Springs through the J-1 visa program.

Iqbal then engaged in a number of different scams described in the press release.  The first scam involved call centers where he and others falsely notified victims that they had erroneously received, or would receive, a refund for computer tech-support services.  Victims were called by India-based call center agents who claimed to work for tech support companies.  In many instances, the victims were persuaded to allow the agents to access their computer via remote access software.  Once inside the computer, the agents collected information about the victims’ bank accounts, accessed victim bank accounts online, and generated statements falsely claiming the victims had received a deposit when, in fact, they had not.

The press release quoted an example where Iqbal opened a bank account that he used to deposit money from an elderly victim who he tricked into providing money to him and others through the refund scam.  The victim, was defrauded out of approximately $20,000.  Iqbal also took money from another out-of-state victim who was defrauded of $50,000 through a combination of the refund scam and another scam involving tech support.

The tech support scam involved deceiving victims believing that they had a serious computer problem, the Justice Department said.  Sometimes these victims would encounter a “pop up” on their computer while browsing the internet.  These pop ups would falsely tell the victim that there was a problem with their computer and would provide a number for tech support.  Calls to that number would be answered by an India-based scheme participant.  These agents would then offer to diagnose the problem and persuade the victim to provide access to the victim’s computer through remote access software.  Once inside the victim’s computer, the agents would use simple commands to make it appear that there was a problem with the computer when, in fact, there was not.  The agents would then ask for money to perform tech support services.

Victims of both the refund and tech support scams were directed to pay the participants of the scheme using a variety of means including purchasing gift cards at retail stores, using a money transfer service to send the money to “receivers” with established bank accounts in the United States and elsewhere.  Members of the scheme also simply commandeered the victims’ computer, accessed their bank accounts using the internet, and used the illicit access to transfer money.  It is estimated that the defendant and others took over $377,000 from their victims.

According to the press release, court records show that even before coming to the United States to work as a receiver, Iqbal had several roles in various India-based fraud schemes.  He had previously worked as a call center agent working to defraud victims in the United States and around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and South Africa.  He had also served as a “broker” helping to connect the India-based owners of scam call centers with receivers who could accept money from victims in their native countries.  At one point, the defendant used proceeds of the scheme to run his own call center in India.

Co-defendant Danish Rashid, who pleaded guilty in August 2019 to participating in the scheme, is due to be sentenced on February 5, 2020.

The Justice Department advised anyone who believes they may be a victim of tele-fraud to contact the FTC via this website.

Additional resources providing information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat these scams can be found at the website for the Department’s Elder Justice Initiative.

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