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Arrests Made In Multi-State Phone Scam Scheme Involving Berkshires

A woman in a blue suit stands in front of a set of stone stairs
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington at Tuesday's press conference in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington says two arrests have been made in relation to a phone scam that netted the suspects at least $300,000.

Harrington spoke in front of Berkshire County Superior Court in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts Tuesday evening.

“Police arrested Ajaykumar Chaudhari, 24 of Pownal, Vermont and Jitendra Chaudhari, 27, of Williamstown as the result of a three-month investigation into a national organized fraud scheme,” said the DA.

The pair are accused of defrauding individuals in multiple states with phone scams.

“They are facing larceny by false pretenses over $1200, larceny from a person over the age of 65, and conspiracy,” said Harrington.

Each charge carries a state prison sentence of up to five years.

“Law enforcement believes that the Chaudharis were involved in a multi-state scheme intended to defraud individuals through phone scams," said the DA. "In March, police in other jurisdictions alerted the Adams police department that individuals in their own communities reported being scammed into sending thousands of dollars in cash to addresses in Adams.”

The three-month investigation was conducted by the Berkshire State Police Detective Unit, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Taskforce, the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, and the Adams police department – along with support from agencies in Pittsfield, Williamstown, Lanesborough, North Adams, and Hoosick Falls, New York.

“In total, 27 search warrants were executed over the duration of the investigation, including two businesses, one residence, and multiple motor vehicles,” said Harrington.

Around $50,000 in cash was seized Monday, and investigators have accounted for at least $300,000 allegedly stolen through the scheme so far.

“Law enforcement seized and returned much of the money to the victims or held as evidence pending the ongoing prosecution,” said the DA.

In calls made from Adams, the suspects allegedly posed as impostors to their victims in several states. Harrington said the investigation is ongoing and may produce additional arrests.

“Nationwide, last year the Federal Trade Commission reported that people lost $1.9 billion through various scams with imposter scams accounting for $667 million," she said. "These types of scams involve callers attempt to create urgency, distress, and trigger an emotional response.”

Harrington offered a list of ways to avoid falling prey to fraud schemes.

“Do not engage with callers who try to pressure you into making an immediate decision or insist on secrecy," she said. "Do not provide any personal information if you did not initiate the contact. Be wary of anyone who asks you to send cash, wire funds, send cash, or purchase prepaid cards. Consult with a loved one or the police department if you are unsure of anything.”

The DA also recommended screening phone calls, ignoring calls from unfamiliar numbers, monitoring financial records and credit history, and adding yourself to no call lists.

“If you are scammed, do not be critical of yourself," said Harrington. "Anyone can be a victim and many scams go unreported because the victim is too ashamed to come forward.”

Harrington urges anyone who thinks they may have fallen victim to a scam to call her office at (413) 443-5951.

The suspects were expected to be arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court Wednesday.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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