U.S. charges Indian man over $10 million computer fraud scheme targeting elderly

·1-min read

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan charged an Indian man with helping run a scheme that defrauded thousands of victims, including the elderly, into buying unnecessary computer anti-virus protection by falsely claiming that malware had infected their machines.

Vinoth Ponmaran, 34, was arrested on July 15 in Blaine, Washington, and was ordered held in custody after a brief hearing on Wednesday in Seattle federal court.

Prosecutors said victims would see computer pop-up windows, sometimes containing logos of well-known companies, claiming that malware had been detected, and were directed to call a phone number for "technical support."

Once hooked, victims allegedly paid several hundred or several thousand dollars to the fraudsters, who sometimes accessed the computers but only to run anti-virus tools that were freely available.

Prosecutors said more than 7,500 people in the United States and Canada were defrauded out of more than $10 million from 2015 to 2018, and Ponmaran directed co-conspirators to wire some fraud proceeds to accounts in India.

Christopher Black, a lawyer for Ponmaran, declined to comment.

Ponmaran, also known as Victor James, was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term.

A co-defendant, Romana Leyva of Las Vegas, was sentenced in January to serve 8-1/3 years in prison and pay $7.4 million in forfeiture and restitution after pleading guilty.

Another co-defendant, Ariful Haque of Queens, New York, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced in May to serve one year and one day in prison and pay $510,000.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan imposed both sentences, and oversees Ponmaran's case.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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