Five ways fake call centres are scamming foreigners, Indians

india Updated: May 18, 2017 13:41 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
Debasish Panigrahi
Hindustan Times
Thane call centre scam,Fake companies,BPO industry

Increasing reports of such fraud businesses is bound to hurt India’s $110 billion BPO industry that hurts from a lack of robust oversight and tight regulation.(Representative image)

Investigation into a Rs 1,900 crore call centre scam has unearthed scores of dubious ventures in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai that seek to dupe unsuspecting foreigners, highlighting the underbelly of India’s booming business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Officials probing the case – where call centre employees posed as US revenue officers over the phone and cheated Americans -- told HT that they found evidence of five kinds of online fraud networks in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodra, Surat, Gurgaon, Noida ,Delhi and Mumbai.

The shadowy businesses include illegally exporting medication, bogus cheque deposits and swindling customers by offering non-existent loans and extorting money from bank loan defaulters.

“The scammers are not only robbing foreign nationals of their hard earned money, but bringing a shame to our country too,” said a senior Thane crime branch official, requesting anonymity.

The crime branch arrested the alleged mastermind of the scam, 24-year-old Sagar Thakkar alias Shaggy, earlier this month after raids last October on his fraud call centres in Thane. But they have been unable to trace his ill-gotten millions.

As jurisdiction restrictions don’t allow Thane Police to conduct search and seizures at far-off locations, information has been passed onto the state director general of police with a request to alert authorities in the respective states about the organised con syndicates.

Increasing reports of such fraud businesses is bound to hurt India’s $110 billion BPO industry that hurts from a lack of robust oversight and tight regulation, experts say. A mounting job crisis for fresh graduates fuels such scams that are often run out of flats by a handful of people with low tech support, making it difficult for authorities to nab culprits.

Earlier this month, HT investigated one such Gurgaon-based call centre running a lucrative fraud in so-called tech support. Past and present employees of Saburi TLC said their sole brief was to cheat customers into believing their computers were at a virus or hacking risk until they bought security solutions that cost hundreds of dollars.


PHARMA SCAM: Both scheduled and off-the-counter drugs are procured illegally without prescriptions in India and sold abroad.

How it works: Sildenafil (like Viagra) and Oxycodone drugs are in high demand in the United States as are various psychotropic drugs. These drugs are available strictly on prescription and their production, supply and distribution is closely monitored by enforcement agencies to check possible abuse. However, as 90% substance abusers in the US are dependent on prescribed counter drugs, there is a huge gap between demand and availability.

Investigation by the Thane crime branch reveals the deficit in the availability of the drugs has spurred sourcing the drugs, through organised smuggling syndicates, from countries like India.

To begin with, the conduits of the racket procure the sales data of drug stores in the US from the internet at a price. The sale data contains information such as the medical history of the consumers and his contact details.

They then start calling up the customer, offering him the drug at a discounted price. Once the customer places the order, the money is deducted in advance from his credit card. The drug is then couriered in small quantities by labeling the packets as “Homeopathy drugs” or “plant feed.”

DEBT COLLECTION (THIRD BUCKET) SCAM: Extorting money from bank loan defaulters.

How it works: The scammers collect the list of loan defaulters of various banks in the US. Posing as recovery officials, they start calling up the loan defaulters with an American accent so as not to raise any suspicion. Through a prepared script, the callers would coerce the ‘target’ in making payment to a particular account. The money is then transferred to banks in India where it is collected.

PAY DAY SCAM: In the US, the salary day for employees is referred to as Pay Day. The scammers fleece salaried employees with promises of loan sanction.

How it works: In the United States, almost everyone wants a loan. The scammers make random calls to people on Pay Day, offering them a loan, but with a rider. After the initial offer, they would tell the ‘target’ that his credit ratings were too low to make him eligible for a loan. To increase the credit ratings, the prospective applicant would be advised to deposit the first installment (EMI) of the loan amount. A confirmatory mail would be sent to him after the installment was actually deposited. Afterwards, the mail account would be erased and the money would be encashed.

CHEQUE DEPOSIT SCAM: The bogus cheque deposit.

How it works: Suddenly a cheque is added to the account of the victim. The scammers would then call up the victim, informing about the mistake. They would then ask him to deposit the same (or lesser) amount in an account (provided by the scammers). Once the victim makes the online deposit, the scammers would quickly cancel the cheque by informing the issuing bank.

TECH SUPPORT SCAM: Fleecing on pretext of virus attack on PC.

How it works: The scammers would randomly call US citizens, informing them about a virus attack on their personal computer. The gullible user, who falls into the trap, would agree to the offer made by the scammers to debug the computer. Using TeamViewer software (used for Internet-based remote access and support. Through the software one can connect to any PC or server so as to remote control the target PC) the scammers would pretend to debug the computer. The unsuspecting customer would be asked to pay anything between $50- $100 for the service. Considering that thousands of people are enticed into believing the scammers every day, the total volume of the scam runs into several hundred thousands of dollars every month.

Source: Thane Police

First Published: Apr 17, 2017 11:01 IST