Donald S. Boyce, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced that federal fraud charges were filed this week against six additional individuals for their participation in an international “Tech Support Scam.” In a Tech Support Scam, the scammer attempts to convince the victim that he or she has a serious computer problem, and then tries to sell the victim unnecessary products and services.
The federal indictments returned on November 14, 2017, allege that all six individuals worked at a business in Boynton Beach, FL, known as Client Care Experts, LLC (“Client Care”). Client Care was formerly known as First Choice Tech Support, LLC (“First Choice”), and was formerly located in Pompano Beach, FL. With the cases filed this week, the number of former Client Care employees who have been charged with federal fraud violations now stands at fourteen – charges against the previous eight defendants were filed this spring.
According to the indictments, the conspiracy and scheme to defraud operated from approximately November 12, 2013, through at least June 29, 2016. During this period, Client Care/First Choice victimized over 40,000 people and defrauded these individuals out of more than $25,000,000. The victims were located in all fifty of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several U.S. territories, all ten Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, and several other foreign countries. At least fifty-seven victims of the scam were located in twenty-two counties within the Southern District of Illinois, with multiple victims in both St. Clair and Madison Counties.
According to the indictments, Client Care/First Choice purchased pop-up advertisements, which appeared without warning on the victims’ computer screens and locked up their browsers. These pop-ups falsely informed the victims that serious problems, such as viruses or malware, had been detected on their computers. The pop-ups also usually warned the victims that they were at serious risk of losing their data and informed them to call a toll-free number. When the victims called the numbers shown on their screens, they were connected to Client Care/First Choice salespersons.
The indictments further allege that the salespersons convinced the victims to allow them to have remote access to their computers. Once they accessed the victims’ computers, the indictments charge, the salespersons examined routine computer functions and processes and then tried to convince the victims that these functions and processes were evidence of problems. In addition, the salespersons also ran a system analyzer program on the victims’ computers. However, regardless of what this system analyzer showed, the salespersons allegedly still tried to convince the customers that their computers had serious problems. According to the indictment, the salespersons also concealed from the victims: (1) that they could make the pop-ups go away by unplugging or rebooting their computers; and (2) that Client Care/First Choice paid for the pop-up ads which had frozen their computer browsers.
The indictments allege that the salespersons usually charged the victims $250 for a computer system “tune up,” and then also sold them an anti-virus protection software for $400. The salespersons worked on commission.
The six additional individuals charged this week are: Cory Steven Bachman, 25, of Boynton Beach, FL; Tatum Elyse Espenshade, 26, of West Palm Beach, FL; Robert Thomas McCart, 32, of Boynton Beach, FL; Timothy James Miller, II, 27, of Schwenksville, PA; Jonathan Matthew Richardson, 27, of Lake Worth, FL; and Grant Clark Wasik, 35, of Boynton Beach, FL. According to the indictments, Bachman, Espenshade, and Miller all worked as salespersons. With regard to Richardson and McCart, the indictments allege that they both worked as Team Leaders, supervising groups of salespersons. Wasik is alleged to have been the Vice President of Client Care/First Choice. Arraignment hearings for all six of these defendants will be conducted later this month and in early December.
The eight individuals who were previously charged are: Joseph Ralph Aievoli, IV, 25, of Boynton Beach, FL; Andrew Douglas Broad, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL; Ryan Stocker Carr, 23, of Mount Laurel, NJ; Joshua Dennis Cortez, 37, of Lake Worth, FL; Nicholas James Davidson, 26, of Boynton Beach, FL; Patrick M. Dougherty, 35, of Boynton Beach, FL; Eric M. Iannaccone, 32, of Monroe Township, NJ; and Anthony Vincent Ludena, 29, of Boca Raton, FL. The indictments allege that Aievoli, Davidson, Dougherty, and Ludena worked as salespersons for Client Care/First Choice. It is alleged that both Broad and Cortez held the position of Director of Recruiting and Training. Carr is charged with working as a Team Leader. Iannaccone is alleged to have been the company’s Sales Manager.
Aievoli, Broad, Carr, Davidson, Dougherty, Iannaccone, and Ludena have all pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Cortez’s trial date has been set for January 23, 2017. Trial dates for Bachman, Espenshade, McCart, Miller, Richardson, and Wasik will be set in the near future.
All fourteen of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Under the SCAMS Act, because it is alleged that the crimes took place in connection with telemarketing, and victimized ten or more persons over the age of 55, the maximum penalty is 30 years of imprisonment. The defendants can also be ordered to serve up to five years of supervised release after any term of imprisonment, can be fined up to $250,000, and can be ordered to pay restitution to the victims.
These cases are part of an ongoing investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Scott A. Verseman, Ranley R. Killian, and Nathan D. Stump.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office is cooperating with the federal investigation. In addition, the Florida Attorney General’s Office brought a civil enforcement action against Client Care/First Choice for the purpose of ending the fraudulent activities at that business.
The Federal Trade Commission has also been working to shut down illegal tech support scams.
For more information about the FTC’s “Operation Tech Trap,” please go to https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/05/ftc-federal-state-internationalpartnersannounce-major-crackdown. An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant.
Under the law, that charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.