The United States on Thursday announced it had charged 61 individuals and entities connected to India-based call centres for allegedly defrauding thousands of people in America of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The US department of justice said in a statement it had arrested 20 individuals in the US and charged 32 people and five call centres in Ahmedabad. And a US-based defendant was in the custody of immigration authorities.
The defendants allegedly called vulnerable people in the US impersonating officials of the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) — the US income tax department — or US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
They threatened their victims with “with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government”. Some people would pay even if they didn’t owe anything because they simply didn’t want trouble.
As soon as the victim paid, the money was turned into prepaid debit cards or sent to India through wire transfer. The justice department also found evidence defendants used the “hawala” network of illegal money transfer also used by terrorists.
This is not the first time India based individuals and entities have been found involved in this kind of racket. But this could be the largest such racket unearthed, involving the charing of 61 individuals and entities.
The justice department said this network was busted in a three-year-long investigation. The indictment was returned by a grand jury in a Texas court on October 19, following which arrests were made.
In one instance, an 85-year-old woman of California was conned into paying $12,300 by one of the call centres for some “fictitious tax violations”. Another California resident was defrauded of $136,000, by callers impersonating IRS officials.
The defendants also used a variation of the Nigerian fraud. Victims were told they had qualified for a grant or a loan but will have to pay a small fee to process the transfer. For loans, they were asked to pay a “good-faith” advance payment.