US indicts dozens in massive Indian call center scheme

The callers in India, claiming to be officials with the Internal Revenue Service or immigration services, would present those who answered the phone with an ultimatum.

“Pay us, or we’ll fine you, deport you or arrest you,” reported the Washington Post. “Their network was expansive, and their work lucrative. Justice Department officials announced charges against 61 people and entities and said the call center scheme had scammed at least 15,000 victims out of more than $250 million.”

As per reports, phone scams are not new, but the breadth and sophistication of this one is notable. Justice Department officials said the defendants – 24 of them based in the United States – ran at least five call center groups overseas.

Now, the US Justice Department has brought these criminals under law. U.S. authorities said they arrested 20 people in this country and carried out nine search warrants Thursday. A few others involved were already in custody. Earlier this month, in a separate case, police in Mumbai raided a call center and detained 770

employees for questioning. The Justice Department said that it was focused on a network of call centers in Ahmedabad and that some of the centers’ owners have been charged.

According to Leslie Caldwell, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, she hoped the efforts of U.S. and Indian authorities would put a dent in the robust industry of phone scammers. “We have seen a drop-off in the success rate of these scams,” Caldwell said.

A grand jury in federal court in the Southern District of Texas returned an indictment in the case on Oct. 19. Officials announced the unsealing of it on Thursday. The charges against those involved include conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.

Bruce Foucart, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations, said the scammers conducted online research on potential targets using Facebook and other online sources and bilked “savvy, successful and law-abiding people.” He said they went to “frightening lengths” to ensure the success of their scheme. “They convey authority and a sense of urgency that leaves their victims terrified,” he said.

Those involved had a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators who would liquidate and launder the ill-gotten gains by buying prepaid debit cards, which they often registered using the personal information of identity-theft victims. They also would send wire transfers using fake names and use money transferring methods known as “hawalas,” in which money is effectively moved internationally outside the U.S. banking system.

Caldwell said the scammers were able to display their numbers on caller ID systems as being from the U.S. government, though she said no government agency would call demanding money as they did. “If you get one of these calls,” she said, “it is not the U.S. government calling you.”

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