Massive Indian call centers have scammed over 15,000 Americans out of over $ 300 million dollars since 2013.
The U.S. Justice department last month brought grand jury charges against 56 people in India and the United States for “telefraud” scams run from fake call centers in India.
A woman in National City, California, received a voice message on her phone saying she was in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over “tax evasion or tax fraud”. Panicking, she rang the number and told a man who said he was from the IRS: “I can pay $500,” half the sum demanded. “I could do a payment plan. I just can’t pay all of it at once.” “Ma’am, you can pay $500 today itself. You can do that?” the man asked.
She did and she was scammed.
Reuters reports that Federal investigators have arrested 20 people in the United States, and Indian authorities have made 75 arrests following October raids on three premises in the Thane suburb of Mumbai. Charges include conspiracy to commit identity theft, impersonation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.
Indian police say they are looking for Sagar Thakkar, a man in his early 30’s also known as Shaggy, who they believe masterminded the scam. Thakkar was also among those named by the U.S. Department of Justice. Reuters was unable to contact Thakkar for comment; he is not known to have a lawyer, and police believe he fled to Dubai last month.
Police said Thakkar led a lavish lifestyle, frequenting 5-star hotels and driving expensive cars with proceeds from the scam. He gave one, a 25 million rupee ($365,000) Audi R8, to his girlfriend. “We have seized an Audi car, and are trying to find other assets of Thakkar”, said Thane Police deputy commissioner “Parag Manere.
At a news conference last month, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said the U.S. would seek the extradition of suspects in India, and warned others engaged in similar schemes they could face jail terms.
The massive scale of the Indian operation came as a surprise to authorities.
For months, hundreds of young men and women worked nights at several call centers in Thane. Callers posed as IRS officers and threatened their victims, often newly-arrived immigrants and the elderly, into paying fictitious tax penalties electronically – sometimes by buying gift cards and turning over the redemption codes, Indian investigators said.
“They used to blast out pre-recorded messages to thousands of citizens who were asked to call back. When they called back, there was a center just like this,” said deputy commissioner Manere.
Haider Ali Ayub Mansuri, who was one of the 75 arrested by the Indian police said he managed operations at one fake call center, told Reuters as he was returned to jail in India last month after a court extended his custody.
On a good day, we extracted as much as $20,000 from a single U.S. citizen,” Mansuri said.
This telefraud problem in India has been ongoing with numerous arrests made over the years.
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