Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Defendant ARIFUL HAQUE pleaded guilty today to participating in a conspiracy that exploited victims, including elderly victims, by remotely accessing their computers and convincing victims to pay for computer support services. which they did not need and which were never provided. HAQUE registered an alleged tech support company, which defrauded over 100 victims. HAQUE pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, to whom his case is assigned.
US Attorney Damian Williams said: “As he admitted today, Ariful Haque participated in a conspiracy that caused pop-ups to appear on victims’ computers, pop-ups that falsely claimed , that a virus had infected the victim’s computer. Through this and other misrepresentations, this fraudulent scheme has tricked dozens of victims, including some of society’s most vulnerable members, into paying perpetrators hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to our partners at Homeland Security Investigations, Haque is now awaiting sentencing for his crime.
According to the allegations contained in the replacement information, court filings and statements made during the plea proceedings:
From November 2017 to approximately June 2019, HAQUE was a member of a criminal fraud ring (the “Fraud Ring”) based in the United States and India that engaged in a technical support fraud scheme that exploited approximately 20 victims located in the United States and Canada. , including the Southern District of New York. The main goal of Fraud Ring was to trick victims into believing that their computers were infected with malware, in order to trick them into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for bogus computer repair services.
The scheme generally worked as follows. First, the Fraud Ring caused pop-ups to appear on victims’ computers. The pop-ups falsely claimed that a virus had infected the victim’s computer. The pop-up prompted the victim to call a particular phone number for technical support. In at least some cases, the pop-up threatened victims that if they restarted or shut down their computer, it could “cause severe system damage”, including “complete loss of data”. In an attempt to give a false appearance of legitimacy, in some cases the pop-up included the corporate logo of a well-known and legitimate tech company without permission. In fact, no viruses had infected the victims’ computers, and the tech support phone numbers were not associated with the legitimate technology company. On the contrary, these representations were false and intended to induce victims to pay the Fraud Ring to “fix” a problem that did not exist. And while the alleged “virus” was a hoax, the pop-up itself caused various victims’ computers to “freeze” completely, preventing them from accessing data and files on their computers, prompting some victims to call the phone number given in the pop-up window. In exchange for the victims paying several hundred or thousands of dollars (depending on the precise “service” the victims purchased), the alleged technician remotely accessed the victim’s computer and ran an anti-virus tool, free and available online. The Fraud Ring has also re-victimized various victims, after they made payments to supposedly “fix” their technical issues.
The Fraud Ring operated through at least 15 fraudulent entities. In November 2017, HAQUE registered one such fraudulent entity in New York State. The HAQUE entity defrauded more than a hundred victims under this scheme. As part of its involvement in the scheme, HAQUE opened US bank accounts to receive funds from the victims, and HAQUE repeatedly provided a co-conspirator in India (“CC-1”) with authentication codes so that CC-1 can transfer funds out of these bank accounts. HAQUE, a former bank branch manager in New York, also made suggestions to CC-1 about which victims’ checks should and should not be deposited, noting in the posts that it was “not a good idea to deposit” certain specified checks. HAQUE also aided another co-conspirator (“CC-2”), who had also registered another fraudulent entity as part of the Fraud Ring. In total, as he admitted in his plea agreement, HAQUE is liable for losses exceeding $600,000.
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HAQUE, 36, of Queens, New York, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum legal sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as HAQUE’s sentence will be determined by the judge. HAQUE’s sentencing is scheduled for May 4, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. before Judge Crotty.
Mr. Williams commended the El Dorado Cyber Intrusion/Cyber Fraud Group of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their outstanding work on the investigation. Mr. Williams also thanked the New York City Police Department for their assistance in the case.
This case is being handled by the Bureau’s Complex Fraud and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Jilan J. Kamal are charged with the prosecution.