Today in New Delhi, India
Jul 23, 2019-Tuesday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

A crackdown on Americans of Indian descent will cause worry

columns Updated: Apr 13, 2019 10:36 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

A bunch of scammers, based in India and operating with Indian American accomplices, targeted elderly Americans in what is called phone tech support fraud. These operations were so well organised and sophisticated that US law enforcement officials have compared them to the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia. Attorney General William Barr (above) drew that comparison during an unrelated hearing on Capitol Hill on April 9(REUTERS)

There are an estimated 2.8 million Americans of Indian descent (2010 census). Most of them are prosperous, highly educated and, notably, not known to get into trouble. They don’t break the law, pay their taxes and, now increasingly, run for public offices. They have often been called the “model minority”. But not every one of them has contributed equally to creating that gold standard, and their numbers, unfortunately, may be growing. They are not doctors, IT engineers, business leaders or academics that Indians have come to be associated with. They are scammers.

Twenty-four men and women from India (and of Indian descent) were convicted in July 2018 for defrauding thousands of Americans of millions of dollars through telephone frauds. They targeted the elderly, preying on their vulnerabilities and insecurities. The scam was run from well-staffed call centres in India. Victims were approached on phone by callers impersonating federal income tax officials. They threatened victims with arrests if they did not pay up tax dues. This is just one of the many scams that are being tracked by US law enforcement. The cons, who were sentenced up to 20 years in jail, were a mix of Indians merely residing in the United States or those who had become American citizens. Some of those in the latter category, were ordered to be stripped of their citizenship after their sentence and sent back to India.

Another bunch of scammers, based in India and operating with Indian American accomplices, targeted elderly Americans in what is called phone tech support fraud, according to an announcement from the US Department of Justice in March about a countrywide takedown of such frauds carried out jointly by multiple law enforcement and government agencies. A pop up ad on the computer screen would warn the victim, in stern language and tone, about a virus attack that could compromise the system and access personal information. Victims were asked to call a telephone number on the screen for help. Many people fell for it, and paid large sums of money to fix the phony problem.

These operations were so well organised and sophisticated that US law enforcement officials have compared them to the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia. Attorney General William Barr drew that comparison during an unrelated hearing on Capitol Hill on April 9. Nationals of many other countries have been involved in these frauds but America’s top law enforcement officer mentioned only India as the source of most of them — “they are actually … international criminal organisations, a lot of them come out of India”.

And there are visa frauds, which he didn’t talk about, but other officials have. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported multiple cases of visa fraud, including those involving H-1B but not confined to it. An Indian American in Florida state pleaded guilty in March for running a marriage fraud along with an accomplice. They recruited American citizens to marry Indians, mostly those who had overstayed their visa or the student exchange programme, to stay on as Americans naturalised by marriage. They had performed 80 such marriages, the USCIS said.

The number of these cons is growing, and with the attorney general turning the focus on such scams run out of India, more cases can be expected to be brought to light. While they cannot, and should not be allowed to, define the larger community of Indian Americans, the questions that a larger crackdown could entail will be unsettling. The issue of the fraud on the elderly that drew Barr’s response implicating India came in answer to a question from a Republican congresswoman, which was echoed later by a Democrat. It might not be long before things go from unsettling to cringeworthy.

First Published: Apr 12, 2019 17:52 IST

more from columns