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Cellphone Store Worker Arrested for Scamming Tourists, Officials Say

By Rosa Goldensohn | January 6, 2015 12:05pm | Updated on January 7, 2015 8:59am
 Amit Shahar of Israel said she was overcharged by Prepaid Mobile and never got her money back. 
Prepaid Mobile
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HERALD SQUARE — A worker was arrested last week for scamming a customer at a cellphone store where dozens of tourists have complained that they had been bilked out of hundreds or thousands of dollars, through hidden fees and unauthorized charges, according to angry customers and the Manhattan District attorney's office.

The store, Prepaid Mobile at 1265 Broadway, sells tourists prepaid SIM cards so they can use their phone in New York City and then charges their credit cards extra after they leave the store, according to more than a dozen customers who spoke to DNAinfo New York.

Police arrested store employee Ajmad Chaudhry, 27, of Queens in one of the cases on Dec. 31, accusing him of charging English tourist Katherine Quinn's credit card with $1,306 after she bought a $27 SIM card with cash. 

Chaudhry had told Quinn that he needed her credit card to verify her identity, and she did not give him permission to charge her card, according to the DA's criminal complaint and Quinn.

When Quinn returned to the store with a police officer at 9:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve, Chaudhry showed the officer a contract authorizing the store to charge Quinn's credit card. But Quinn said she'd never signed the contract and it appeared to have her partner's forged signature on it, according to the complaint. 

Chaudhry was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument, for faking a signature, and grand larceny, according to the district attorney's office.

"It ruined our holiday," said Quinn. "They knew we were leaving New York on Saturday. It's a hugely, highly sophisticated and organized crime." 

DNAinfo heard from more than a dozen foreign tourists who told similar stories: They purchased a SIM card or phone at Prepaid Mobile but then discovered hundreds or thousands of dollars of unexpected charges on their credit cards.

When they tried to get their money back, they were told to wait, offered expensive fees, or ignored.

The city's Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating Prepaid Mobile, which has a second store on Seventh Avenue in Midtown, a spokeswoman said.

The DCA received eight complaints about Prepaid Mobile for overcharging and breach of contract in 2014, the agency said, five of which were from tourists from other countries. DCA issued the company a violation in March for not properly displaying prices for merchandise. Prepaid Mobile paid a fine of $375, the DCA confirmed.

The investigation into the store is ongoing, DCA said.

An employee at the Prepaid Mobile store on Broadway suggested the complaints against the store were fake, but would not comment further.

The store's owner did not respond to a request for comment. Chaudhry's attorney, Alexandra Tseitlin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many tourists described a similar scam to the one Quinn reported to police.

Amit Shahar of Israel said she bought a $10 SIM card at the store in July and employees told her they needed her credit card number “just in case I will exceed the [1 gigabyte of data] on the card,” she said.

“They charged me for an extra $217 without my consent, which they told me, after I sent several emails, I will get back in 180 day[s],” she wrote in an email. “Well, I waited 180 days, and two weeks ago [I] sent them another email asking when will I see my money back. I received an answer that everything was approved, and I have to wait a few more days."

The following week, Shahar emailed the address once more, she said, but received an error message saying the address no longer exists.

Stacey Ryan, 43, a consultant from Australia, popped into Prepaid Mobile after she lost her phone at JFK Airport, she told DNAinfo. She said a Prepaid Mobile worker who called himself Adam kept her talking while another worker ran her credit card, and that they charged an extra $2,177 fee they “casually mention as being on 'hold' if you go over the data usage.” When she tried to get the money back, she said they took her next door and suggested she pay a $200 fee to reverse the charges.

“It's not even about the money,” she wrote in an email. “Adam's worldview is that the banks will deal with the loss and if people are stupid enough to trust him they deserve it.”

The website complaints.com displays a litany of similar stories.

Quinn was appalled to find so many others with common experiences. She said she may return to the United States to testify against Chaudhry in the case.

"They messed with the wrong person," she said.