Two Charged in $5.8 Million Reloadable Debit Card Extortion Scam
NEWARK, NJ—Two Philadelphia men were arrested this morning for allegedly conspiring to extort victims to load prepaid debit cards with funds that were stolen as part of the scheme, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Special agents of the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested Alpeshkumar Patel, 30, and Vijaykumar Patel, 39, of Philadelphia at Vijaykumar Patel’s home on a complaint charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The pair, who are not related, are expected to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk in Newark federal court.
According to the complaint unsealed today:
From September 2013 through March 2014, Alpeshkumar Patel and Vijaykumar Patel were part of a conspiracy to steal money using reloadable debit cards. First, the conspirators would purchase reloadable Green Dot Cards, and register them in names other than their own. The conspirators—some of whom were located in India—contacted victims by phone and used threats or deceit to induce them to put money on MoneyPak cards, which are used along with assigned PIN codes to add funds to Green Dot Cards. The conspirators then used the reloadable cards to purchase money orders that were deposited into bank accounts. All of the steps were taken quickly so law enforcement and victims could not identify the conspirators or prevent or reverse the fraudulent transfers.
As one example, a retail store located in New Jersey received a telephone call from an unknown caller on Sept. 10, 2013. The caller said there was a bomb in the store and the store manager had five minutes to comply with the caller’s demands or the bomb would detonate. The caller then demanded the manager load 10 $500 MoneyPak cards and provide the caller with the associated PIN codes. The manager had provided the code for one card before law enforcement arrived at the store, instructed the manager to hang up the phone, and evacuated the building.
The $500 associated with that code was transferred to an existing prepaid reloadable Green Dot Card. Surveillance video showed Alpeshkumar Patel in the Philadelphia CVS where the Green Dot Card was bought. That card was then used by Vijaykumar Patel, who was caught on video purchasing two money orders in a Philadelphia Walmart. The money orders, in turn, were used to deposit funds into a bank account.
Phone numbers and IP addresses associated with the Sept. 10, 2013, call and other calls tied to the conspiracy were tied to approximately 2,500 Green Dot Cards that were funded in excess of $5.8 million.
The charge of conspiracy to wire fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000, or twice the gross profits to the defendants or twice the gross loss suffered to the victims of the offense.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents, detectives and investigators assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the direction of FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark, under the direction of FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko in Philadelphia, and special agents of HSI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees in Newark, with the ongoing investigation. Special agents of HSI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John Kelleghan in Philadelphia, assisted with the arrest.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Kogan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.