Two Arrested For $6M Debit Card Scam

FBI Charges Men With Wire Fraud, Extortion, Bomb Hoax
Two Arrested For $6M Debit Card Scam

FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents have arrested two men on charges that they stole $5.8 million using reloadable debit cards.

See Also: Delving Deeper: 2023 Fraud Insights Second Edition

The U.S. Attorney's Office says the two men - Alpeshkumar Patel, 30, and Vijaykumar Patel, 39 - were arrested Oct. 28 in Philadelphia on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to a related complaint that was unsealed Oct. 28, the two Patels, who are unrelated, ran an extortion scam from September 2013 through March 2014 that involved 2,500 prepaid Green Dot Cards, which are reloadable debit cards. Authorities have accused the men - and unnamed conspirators - of tricking or threatening people into adding funds to cards for the MoneyPak money-sending service. MoneyPak cards are sold in a variety of retail stores, can be funded with $20 to $500, and have a PIN code that can be used to transfer any funds stored on the card to a Green Dot Card.

"The conspirators then used the reloadable [Green Dot] cards to purchase money orders that were deposited into bank accounts," the complaint says. "All of the steps were taken quickly so law enforcement and victims could not identify the conspirators or prevent or reverse the fraudulent transfers."

The Patels allegedly used a variety of techniques to get people to fund the MoneyPak cards. In some cases, authorities say, unnamed conspirators - some operating from India - cold-called people in the United States, and tried to trick or threaten them.

One such episode, according to the complaint, involved a bomb threat that was made to an unnamed New Jersey retail store on Sept. 10, 2013:

The caller stated that there was a bomb in the store and that the store manager had five minutes to comply with the caller's demands or the bomb would detonate. The caller then demanded that the manager load 10 $500 MoneyPaks and provide the caller with the associated PIN codes.

In response, the manager provided the caller with the code for one $500 MoneyPak. Prior to the manager providing any additional codes, law enforcement arrived at the store, instructed the manager to hang up the phone, and evacuated the building.

But the bomb threat was a hoax, authorities say. Furthermore, investigators say the PIN code that was provided to the caller was used to add $500 to a Green Dot Card purchased the same day at a CVS store in Philadelphia, and that Alpehkumar Patel was captured on the store's surveillance-video feed at the time the card was purchased.

Later that day, court documents say, the same Green Dot Card was used to purchase two MoneyGram money orders - for $948.00 and $239.00 - at a Walmart located in Pennsylvania, and "video surveillance from the Walmart shows defendant Vijaykumar Patel purchasing these money orders," after which the money order funds were deposited 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," court documents say.

If convicted of the wire-fraud charge, the men face up to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000, or else double any profits - or victims' losses - that occurred.

About the Author

Mathew J. Schwartz

Mathew J. Schwartz

Executive Editor, DataBreachToday & Europe, ISMG

Schwartz is an award-winning journalist with two decades of experience in magazines, newspapers and electronic media. He has covered the information security and privacy sector throughout his career. Before joining Information Security Media Group in 2014, where he now serves as the executive editor, DataBreachToday and for European news coverage, Schwartz was the information security beat reporter for InformationWeek and a frequent contributor to DarkReading, among other publications. He lives in Scotland.

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