OCALA, FL – A 69-year-old female victim reported being scammed out of $30,000 and an additional $50,000 on two separate occasions – a total loss of $80,000.
According to authorities, the scam started on May 23, when she received a pop-up message on her iPad claiming her bank had been compromised and that she needed to call a 1-(833) number. She called the provided phone number and the scammer told her she was a suspect in a child pornography case. The scammer posed as her financial institution and told the victim that a $30,000 purchase of child pornography was made in China and in order to resolve the issue, she needed to pay $30,000.
During this phone call, she was transferred to various illegitimate “departments” like her bank, the Federal Communication Commission, and the Department of Treasury. Scared of being arrested, she withdrew the money from her bank and followed the scammer’s instructions by going to a Bitcoin ATM at a gas station to transfer the cash to a cryptocurrency account. The scam did not end there.
The next day, the scammer contacted her again, demanding an additional $50,000. Again, she withdrew cash from her bank, and the scammers wanted her to transfer the money the same way as before. This time, she refused because she did not feel safe carrying that much money, so the phone scammer advised someone would come to her house to collect it. Sometime later, an Indian male arrived at her residence in a car. She handed the money to the subject inside the vehicle but could only see the side of his face. When the suspect left, the victim called Ocala Police to report the incident. She said she only gave the money because she was scared she would be killed if she didn’t. She was told by the scammer that she would be contacted again at around 10 a.m. the following day.
On May 25, detectives were in the area of the victim’s residence and were told around 10 a.m. that the scammer had called back. This time, she was again requested to withdraw $50,000 and that someone would pick the money up from her residence. Eventually, a car arrived and parked in front of the victim’s residence and the detectives conducted a traffic stop. The driver, Jayarami Kuruguntla, and the passenger, Parth Patel, were both identified and taken to the Ocala Police Department.
During questioning, Kuruguntla claimed he didn’t know the purpose of their trip to Ocala and denied any knowledge of picking up money or a package. Patel initially lied, stating they came to hang out and have dinner but later stated they were supposed to pick up a package at the victim’s address for a friend in India.
Detectives arrested Patel and Kuruguntla and they were then transported to the Marion County Jail.
Patel was charged with Organized Fraud ($50,000 or more) and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Kuruguntla was charged with Larceny ($50,000 or more from someone 65 years old or older) and Fraud-Swindle to obtain property $50,000 or more.
Detectives requested that both would be held in jail at no bond because Patel is not a U.S. citizen, both may have access to large sums of money due to scamming people, and both could be a flight risk. Both have bonded out of jail.
Here are some essential tips to help you stay safe against phone scammers:
- BE SKEPTICAL: Don’t be afraid to be skeptical towards unsolicited phone calls that demand immediate payments.
- GUARD YOUR PERSONAL INFO: Never share sensitive data like passwords, social security numbers, or bank information online or over the phone unless you’re certain of the legitimacy of the request.
- VERIFY BEFORE TRUSTING: If someone claims to be from a company or organization, independently verify their identity by contacting them directly using the official contact information.
- DON’T RUSH INTO DECISIONS: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure you. Take your time, do research, and seek advice from trusted sources before making any major financial or personal decisions.
- HANG UP: If the call is suspicious and sounds like a scam, just hang up the phone and report it to law enforcement.