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Call centre scam: Kingpin may be US national of Indian origin

IRS website has classified the fraud under the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams in 2016

mumbai Updated: Oct 06, 2016 00:02 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
Debasish Panigrahi
Hindustan Times
Call centre scam,cartel kingpin,Mira Road
The enquiry window at the Sindhi Camp bus stand was non-functional during the strike called by United Front of Trade and Workers' Union in Jaipur on Wednesday, to protest against the Centre's policies on land acquisition, inflation and labour law amendments. (HT Photo/Himanshu Vyas)

A US national of Indian origin is suspected to be the kingpin of the international phone scam cartel, which according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States federal government has swindled over $26.5 million since October 2013.

While warning citizens of the “Phone Scam” that saw an estimated 5,000 persons collectively losing the above mentioned amount by January this year, the IRS official website has classified the fraud under the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams in 2016.

Meanwhile, sources, while refusing to disclose the identity or the location of the mastermind fearing his possible escape, claimed the relevant information on his whereabouts has been shared with authorities in the US to facilitate his arrest.

Refusing to divulge details, Thane police commissioner Paramveer Singh said, “Our investigation is on. We will disclose names at the relevant time.”

Sources, however, claimed that the network is spread across various cities in the country, including Mumbai. “As per our information, at least 15 more call centres in and around Mumbai are in this business,” said a senior officer from Thane police, who is privy to the investigation.

So far, the police have busted seven such call centres in Mira Road from where intimidating calls were made by staffers impersonating IRS officials to tax payers (and evaders) in the US into making payments.

Singh said the call centres were opened at varying times in the past one year, with the latest one just a month ago. Though the call centres did not have the requisite permission to operate, they flourished without raising any suspicion. “It is a part of our investigation to find out how they managed to operate for so long,” Singh said.

He said the police were tipped off about the illegal business about a fortnight ago. “We sent our decoys to each of the seven call centres who record the goings on inside these establishments. After receiving a nod from the Director General of Police (DGP), a couple of days ago, we launched simultaneous raids on Tuesday midnight, thereby denying escape route to anyone,” Singh added.

The police had initially rounded up 772 persons of which 72 ‘trainees’ were let off. Of the remaining 700, 70 (including those who trained recruits in issuing the threat calls, floor managers and team leaders) have been put under arrest while the rest 630 have been released provisionally. “Their roles are being ascertained,” said joint commissioner of Thane police, Ashutosh Dumbare, adding, “if needed, they will also be arrested.”

Singh said that the international racket could not have operated without conduits across oceans and collaborators to launder money through illegal channels. Sources however, claimed that the money generated by the syndicate was routed through hawala to Ahmedabad. “While the conduits in the US got 20-30 per cent commission for each trap, the rest money was sent to the Indian operatives,” sources said adding that the highest earning from a victim was $60,000 in July this year.

First Published: Oct 06, 2016 00:02 IST