PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An Indian college student was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a sweeping tech-support scam that he operated out of a home in Newport.
Victims lost almost $1 million to the scheme.
Bishwajeet Jha, 21, apologized and pleaded for mercy before federal court Judge John McConnell ordered the 60-month sentence Monday.
One of Jha’s victims, who Eyewitness News is choosing to not name, was duped out of $38,500 dollars.
“It’s awful. It’s a whole new way of life,” the victim told the court. “We’re one incident away from having to sell the house.”
“I’m too old to do what I used to do,” he added.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Jha’s victims were contacted to purchase bogus technical support for their computers.
Later, victims would receive phone calls, supposedly from the tech support company, informing them that money had accidentally been deposited into their bank accounts and had to be returned.
“These victims don’t speak technology,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Herbert. “All of the victims in this case were vulnerable.”
According to court documents, “The defendant [Jha], and the others recruited by him to the scheme, received the victims’ funds, took an 8-10% cut for themselves, and laundered the remainder of the funds by transferring the funds to an account associated with a business in California. From there, another member of the conspiracy, who is now in federal custody, took a cut of the funds and then transferred the remainder internationally.”
“I don’t think he [Jha] was the creator of the scheme, but I do think he was an essential component of the scheme,” said Herbert.
“There are cells like the Newport cell that are operating all over the country,” she added.
In a letter to the court, Jha acknowledged his role in the crimes and said he fell for a quick fix and easy money to help his family.
“I am especially sorry to the victims, who now have financial hardship because of me,” he said. “I am taking full responsibility for my action and I’m paying dearly.”
Jha was in the U.S. illegally, after overstaying a legitimate visa, and will be deported when he is released from prison.
The Federal Trade Commission fielded 150,000 reports of tech support scams in 2017.