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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Two men nabbed after scamming elderly victim out of $80,000, police say

The Ocala Police Department arrested two men last week in connection with a phone scam that cost an elderly female victim $80,000.

In a media release, OPD stated that a 69-year-old female victim contacted the police department to report that she had been scammed out of $30,000 and an additional $50,000 on two separate occasions for a total loss of $80,000.

The victim told OPD that the scam started on May 23 when she received a pop-up message on her iPad. The message claimed that her bank had been compromised and she needed to call a “1-(833)” phone number. When she called the provided phone number, a scammer told her that she was a suspect in a child pornography case, according to OPD.

The scammer posed as the victim’s financial institution and told her that a $30,000 purchase of child pornography had been made in China. In order to resolve the issue, she was told that she needed to pay $30,000. According to OPD, the victim was transferred during this phone call to multiple illegitimate “departments” like her bank, the Federal Communication Commission, and the Department of Treasury.

Since the victim was scared of being arrested, she told OPD that 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 following day, the victim was contacted by the scammer who demanded an additional $50,000, which she withdrew from her bank. When the scammer requested that the victim transfer the money “the same way as before,” she advised that she refused because she did not feel safe carrying that much money, according to OPD.

The victim told OPD that an Indian male arrived at her home in a car, and she handed the money to the man. She advised that she could only see the side of the man’s face, and she called the police department to report the incident. OPD stated that the victim had feared for her life, which is why she gave the money to the scammer.

OPD stated that the victim was informed by the scammer that she would be contacted the following morning. On May 25, detectives responded to the victim’s residence at around 10 a.m. after being informed that the scammer had requested for the victim to withdraw another $50,000.

According to OPD, a car arrived and parked in front of the victim’s home. Detectives conducted a traffic stop and made contact with the vehicle’s two occupants: Jayarami Reddy Kuruguntla (driver) and Parth Rajeshkumar Patel (passenger).

Two men nabbed after scamming elderly victim out of 80000 police say
OPD detectives arrested Parth Rajeshkumar Patel and Jayarami Reddy Kuruguntla on May 25, 2023

Kuruguntla and Patel were transported to OPD headquarters for an interview. During questioning, Kuruguntla claimed that he “didn’t know the purpose of their trip to Ocala,” and he denied any knowledge of money or a package at the victim’s home. Patel initially claimed to have arrived in Ocala to “hang out and have dinner,” but he later admitted that both men were supposed to pick up a package at the victim’s home for a friend in India, according to OPD.

Detectives arrested Kuruguntla and Patel and transported them to Marion County Jail.

Kuruguntla was later released from jail on $30,000 bond, and he is facing felony charges for organized fraud ($50,000 or more) and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Patel was also released from jail on $20,000 bond, and he is facing felony charges for larceny ($50,000 or more from a victim 65 years of age or older) and fraudulently obtaining property ($50,000 or more).

A court date has been scheduled for Kuruguntla and Patel at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 27, according to jail records.

The Ocala Police Department recommends that residents follow these tips to avoid falling victim to phone scammers:

  • Be skeptical: Don’t be afraid to be skeptical towards unsolicited phone calls that demand immediate payments.
  • Guard your personal information: Never share sensitive data like passwords, social security numbers, or bank information online or over the phone unless you are 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.
  • Avoid rushing 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.