By Jack Lyons, The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two men from Berkshire County and Southern Vermont led a nationwide scam that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a slew of victims, District Attorney Andrea Harrington said Tuesday.
Ajaykumar Chaudhari, 24, Pownal, and Jitendra Chaudhari, 27, of Williamstown, Mass., are facing charges of larceny by false pretenses over $1,200, larceny from a person over the age of 65 and conspiracy. They are in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday in Northern Berkshire District Court.
After a three month investigation, detectives say they found evidence the men posed as impostors, defrauding victims — most of whom live outside of Massachusetts — for a total of $300,000. Five search warrants executed Monday in the Northern Berkshires seized $50,000 worth of that.
Harrington declined to say how much of the $300,000 has been recovered, but told reporters that detectives have returned much of the money to victims, though some is being held as evidence for the suspects’ prosecution.
“The method and manner to illegally solicit and defraud the individuals is still under active investigation with other law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions,” she said, adding that there may be more arrests in the case.
The investigation began in March when police from other parts of the country told the Adams Police Department about a phone scam soliciting recipients for thousands of dollars in cash to be sent through the mail to addresses in Adams. It expanded to include state and local law enforcement, as well as entities from other states, including Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
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The investigation has executed 27 search warrants so far, including the three on Monday, targeting businesses, residences and motor vehicles.
Law enforcement believes the suspects made the phone calls from Adams. Officials did not establish a relationship between the suspects, saying that the matter is still under investigation.
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Harrington used the opportunity to advocate for taking precautions against scams, noting that impostor scams robbed Americans of $667 million in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission. She advised Berkshire County residents not to pick up the phone if they don’t recognize the caller, and not to provide personal information over the phone unless they initiated the call.
“Be wary of anyone who asks you to send cash, wire funds or purchase prepaid cards,” Harrington said. “Consult with a loved one or the police department if you are unsure of anything.”
Callers may try to evoke a sense of urgency or an emotional response from victims, she said, and recipients should not engage if someone tries to do so.
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“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true,” she added.
Even though phone scams are often associated with the elderly, Harrington said that anyone can be a victim, and embarrassment should not hold someone back from reporting fraud.
“Many scams go unreported because the victim is too ashamed to come forward,” she said.
Officials say anyone who believes they may have been scammed should call the District Attorney’s Office or local police.
Jack Lyons can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-734-4408. Follow him on Twitter at @JackLyonsND.
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