US 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 US and Canada were defrauded out of more than US$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 US$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 US$510,000.
US District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan imposed both sentences, and oversees Ponmaran's case.