Six Busted For Phone Scam That Garnered $120K in Gift Cards

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ—Six men from Jersey City were arrested and charged in connection with "participating in a telephone scam that netted more than $120,000 from their victims," according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO).

According to the official MCPO statement, "victims were led to believe they owed money to the IRS and would be arrested if they did not make restitution."

"In some cases, victims were convinced that family members had been arrested and they needed money for lawyers’ fees or to post bond."

The callers allegedly "told victims to pass money through gift cards from large retail stores with locations in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut," which the scammers then used, according to the statement.

"The investigation, aided by officials from one of the retailers, determined that individuals in India scammed victims across the United States."

All six defendants are from Jersey City, and between the ages of 22 and 26 years old.

They are:

  • Ronak Butani, age 24,  15th – 16th
  • Jay Kakadiya, age 24
  • Akashkumar Chovatiya, age 23
  • Divyesh Patel, age 23
  • Jagdishkumar Patel, age 22
  • Brijeshkumar Parmar, age 26

It's not exactly clear what connection the scam had to Middlesex County, but the six arrests were publicized by way of a joint statement from Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Chief James Parker of the South Plainfield Police Department (SPPD).

The statement also credited the Jersey City Police Department, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations – Newark Division, as well as "officials from one of the retailers."

The six men were hit with various charges, including counts of money laundering and conspiracy.  But it's not clear if most of the men were held in a jail, and if so, where they were jailed.

Only Butani made a stop a the Middlesex County Adult Corectional Center, according to their records department.  Butani checked in on May 15, but was released the following day, apparently released pending trial under the state's new bail reform.

Authorities took the opportunity to remind the public that, "Everyone is a potential target for fraud. These scams are not limited to gender, age, race, or education."

To avoid being victimized, the MCPO recommended residents consider the following questions before sending money:

  • Is this the government? Be aware that the IRS and police will not demand payments over the phone.
  • What’s the hurry? Fast talkers using high-pressure tactics could be hiding something.

The investigation is described as "active and…continuing."

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Ryan Tighe or Detective Christopher Pennisi, both of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, at (732) 745-3300.

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Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.