52 Indians among 61 indicted by US for role in call centre scam
WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department on Thursday indicted 61 individuals, mostly Indians, including 32 based in India and 20 in the US, on charges of fraud, impersonation and money laundering in connection with an extraction scheme that scared Americans into paying nonexistent tax dues through threatening phone calls.
Authorities said 20 individuals have been arrested in the US and one is in the custody of immigration authorities. The India-based scamsters may be extradited to stand trial. The scam was primarily run out of a network of call centres in Ahmedabad. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call centre operators allegedly called potential victims in the US and impersonated officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to the indictment, the call centre operators then threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.
If the victims agreed to pay, the call centres would then turn to a network of US-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers. The prepaid debit cards were often registered using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and wire transfers were directed by the criminal associates using fake names and fraudulent identifications. The scamsters were so vile they extracted money from ageing senior citizens who were too terrified of losing all savings. In one instance, one of the call centres extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from California after threatening her with arrest if she did not pay fictitious tax violations.
The indictment also alleges that the defendants extorted $136,000 from a victim in Hayward, California, who they called multiple times over a period of 20 days, posing as IRS agents and demanding payment for alleged tax violations. The victim was directed to purchase 276 stored value cards which the defendants then transferred to re-loadable debit cards.
In a separate scam, the conspirators would at times allegedly use alternative fraudulent schemes in which the call centre operators would offer the victims small short-term loans or advise them that they were eligible for grants. The indictment alleges the conspirators would then request a good-faith deposit to show the victims’ ability to pay back the loan.
Victims never got money after making the payment.”This indictment will serve to not only seek the conviction of those involved, but will send a message around the world that no one is safe from prosecution for participating in transnational fraud schemes,” said US Atorney Kenneth Magidson.