CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Charlotte, North Carolina man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to access a protected computer, for his role in an international “Tech Support Scam” that defrauded hundreds of victims, including seniors, of more than $3 million.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney William Stetzer for the Western District of North Carolina and Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI Charlotte Field Office, made the announcement.
Bishap Mittal, 24, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer. Mittal has been released on bond. A sentencing date has not been set.
According to the information and plea agreement, Mittal was part of a conspiracy that carried out an international internet “Tech Support Scam,” by placing fake pop-up ads on victims’ computers to convince them they had a serious computer problem, and to induce them to pay for purported “technical support” services to resolve the issue. Mittal admitted in court today that he and “Individual 1” resided together in Charlotte. Individual 1 was the owner/manager of Capstone Technologies LLC (Capstone), a company headquartered in Charlotte that claimed to provide computer-related services to its customers. Capstone conducted business using several different aliases, including Authenza Solutions LLC, MS-Squad Technologies, MS-Squad.com, MS Infotech, United Technologies, and Reventus Technologies, (collectively, Capstone Technologies). Individual 1, Mittal, and others carried out the tech support scam using a call center located in India, set up to handle “tech support” calls with potential victims.
According to the information, pop-up ads were a central part of the conspiracy’s tech support scam. Individual 1 and other co-conspirators purchased blocks of malicious pop-up adware from publishers around the world. The fake pop-ups would suddenly appear on victims’ computers freezing their screens, prompting victims to contact Capstone Technologies at a number shown on the pop-up ad. When victims called the Indian-based tech support center for assistance, the co-conspirators used remote access tools to gain control of the victims’ computers. Once in control of the computers, the scammers identified various fictitious causes for the victims’ purported computer malfunction, including the presence of malware or computer viruses, and induced victims to pay for virus clean-up or other tech support services. The co-conspirators then charged victims between $200 and $2,400 to make computers operable again. According to the information, Mittal and his co-conspirators defrauded hundreds of victims throughout the United States, some of whom were elderly, of more than $3 million.
The FBI conducted the investigation. Trial Attorney Timothy Flowers of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Taylor Phillips of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte are prosecuting the case.
In March 2019, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced the Office’s Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners. For more information please visit: https://edit.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced the results of the largest-ever coordinated nationwide elder fraud sweep, involving more than 250 defendants from around the globe who victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly. As part of the sweep, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners announced a tech-support fraud takedown, designed to combat an increasingly common form of elder fraud in which criminals trick victims into giving remote access to their computers under the guise of providing technical support. In 2018, technical-support schemes generated over 142,000 consumer complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. Older adults filed more loss reports on tech-support scams from 2015 to 2018 than on any other fraud category reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network.