- Vinoth Ponmaran allegedly was a leader of a technical support scheme that deceived victims into paying for phony computer repair services.
An Indian man has been charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly defrauding over 7,500 victims in North America of over $10 million. Vinoth Ponmaran, 34, convinced his targets, usually the elderly, to buy anti-virus protection by falsely claiming that malware had infected their computers, according to a Department of Justice press release.
According to the allegations contained in the superseding indictment, as well as court filings and statements, Ponmaran was a member of a criminal fraud ring based in the U.S. and India from approximately March 2015 through December 2018. He also recruited co-conspirators here to register fraudulent corporate entities and open bank accounts that were used to receive fraud proceeds from victims of the scheme. He also directed co-conspirators to wire fraud proceeds from the United States to accounts in India. “The fraud ring’s primary objective was to trick victims into believing that their computers were infected with malware, in order to deceive them into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for phony computer repair services,” the press release said.
In an attempt to give the false appearance of legitimacy, in some instances, the pop-up window included, without authorization, the corporate logo of a well-known, legitimate technology company. In fact, no virus had infected the victims’ computers, and the technical support phone numbers were not associated with the legitimate technology company. Rather, these representations were false and were designed to trick victims into paying the Fraud Ring to “fix” a problem that did not exist. And while the purported “virus” was a hoax, the pop-up window itself did cause various victims’ computers to completely “freeze,” thereby preventing these victims from accessing the data and files in their computers—which caused some victims to call the phone number listed on the pop-up window.
In exchange for victims’ payment of several hundred or thousand dollars (depending on the precise “service” victims purchased), the purported technician remotely accessed the victim’s computer and ran an anti-virus tool, which is free and available on the Internet. The Fraud Ring also re-victimized various victims, after they had made payments to purportedly “fix” their tech problems.
Ponmaran’s co-defendants, Romana Leyva and Ariful Haque were both sentenced earlier this year, following their respective guilty pleas. Leyva was sentenced to 100 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and she was ordered to pay a forfeiture of $4,679,586.93 and restitution of $2,707,882.91. Haque was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and three years of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay a forfeiture of over $38,000 and restitution of over $470,500.