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Michigan elderly robbed of millions by international fraud ring

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(The Center Square) – A federal indictment unsealed this week accused seven people of stealing $11 million from 50 victims in West Michigan and nationwide, most of whom were elderly people.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten welcomed the charges targeting an international crime ring.

“Elder fraud schemes prey on some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” Totten said in a statement. “It’s critical to raise awareness of elder fraud to help protect our older loved ones from these types of crimes. My office is committed to fighting all types of elder abuse in our community.”

The following alleged conspirators face charges of collecting fraud proceeds from victims: Pragneshbhai M. Patel, 51, Vijaya C. Shetty, 52, and Jayesh J. Panchal, 54, from New York; Everett Jhmal Thibou, 30, Jmyla Elaine Sha’taria White, 28, and Jorrel Tyler Jackson, 31, from Florida; and Mckhaela Katelynn McNamara, 27, from Flint.

The indictment says conspiracy victims would receive a computer pop-up saying a virus had infected their devices and provided a number to call and pay to resolve the alleged problem.

The number contacted scammers in India who allegedly ran multiple scams.

One alleged scam told victims their bank accounts had been compromised. It demanded they withdraw all their cash and give it to fake “federal agents” for safekeeping.

Another scam told victims they were identified in a criminal investigation and needed to turn over money to clear their names.

Through the scams, the seven allegedly stole $11 million mostly from elderly people through in-person meetings with fake “federal agents,” by mailing boxes of cash to addresses provided by the scammers, by wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the scammers, or through gift cards they were told to purchase.

The indictment alleges Panchal and McNamara made six trips to meet with a victim in Lake County, Mich., to collect $398,000 in fraud proceeds from her. The victim thought her bank accounts had been compromised and she was giving cash to “federal agents” for safekeeping. It is alleged that Thibou helped arranged meetings with the Lake County victim.

Earlier this year, the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested two alleged members of the conspiracy located in India. FBI’s Legal Attaché New Delhi provided investigative assistance to the Indian authorities.

“Today’s indictment reflects the commitment of the FBI and our partners to protect older Americans from financial scams,” Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office Devin J. Kowalski said in a statement. “These defendants allegedly defrauded victims by preying on their vulnerabilities. If you believe that you or someone you know may be a victim of elder fraud, submit a tip to the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).”

The FBI’s 2022 Elder Fraud Report says 88,262 people over 60 were victimized in 2022, resulting in the loss of $3.1 billion, an 84% increase from 2021. Tech support and customer service schemes were the most common types of fraud reported.

Assistant United States Attorney Clay Stiffler is prosecuting the case.

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