US Charges 61 as Thousands of Americans Swindled by Indian Call Centers in Gujarat

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Washington, DC – The US Department of Justice on Thursday (October 27) charged 61 entities and people of Indian origin with conspiracy and fraud over a scam that involved phone calls from people pretending to be from the IRS or other government agencies. The list of defendants in the indictment documents show 56 people and five call center groups.

Announcing the takedown in the Indian Call Center Scam, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell told a press conference, “More than 15,000 victims, including new immigrants to this country and the elderly, were targeted by a complex fraud scheme involving a network of call centers originating in India.” “This transnational criminal ring targeted victims in the United States, impersonating IRS, Immigration, police and other government officials, and demanded immediate payments to avoid deportation, arrest warrants or to cover allegedly unpaid income taxes. In the process, these criminals took in hundreds of millions in criminal proceeds,” she continued.

Cracking down in a coordinated operation, the Department of Justice (DoJ); the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations; the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General took action to shut down this massive scheme. In addition, federal and state law enforcement arrested 20 individuals and executed nine search warrants across eight states in a massive takedown.

Congratulating and commending the efforts of special agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations for their tremendous work on this case over the past three years, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement, “Today’s actions will not only bring justice to the perpetrators in this case, but also help raise awareness about the dangers of telemarketing fraud. If you or a loved one receive a suspicious phone call soliciting money in exchange for government services or benefits, please call law enforcement to report a suspected scam before making any kind of payments.”

“The arrests today are based on an indictment brought in the Southern District of Texas that charges 61 entities and individuals, including five call center groups, located primarily in the United States and India, with an international fraud and money laundering conspiracy,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell disclosed that the victims included people all over the United States, mainly vulnerable victims such as immigrants and the elderly. “For example, one 85-year-old California woman was extorted by individuals impersonating IRS employees, who threatened her with arrest unless she paid $12,000 for nonexistent tax violations,” she noted.

In another example, the defendants called the same California man multiple times over a 20-day period, demanding payment for alleged tax violations. They succeeded in extorting that victim out of $136,000. Other victims were scammed out of thousands of dollars—sometimes tens of thousands at a time—by criminals who purported to be immigration agents and who threatened to deport them within 24 hours unless they paid up.

The network was operating for nearly four years, using a variety of schemes to trick frightened individuals over the telephone by tapping into their worst fears—arrest, deportation, and other problems with US government authorities, Caldwell said. “Once a victim was hooked, the call centers relied on a network of US-based associates to cash out and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible. This was done through a variety of prepaid debit cards, which were often registered by conspirators using personal identifying information of close to 50,000 US-based identity theft victims, or through MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfers conducted with fake names and fraudulent identification,” the attorney general explained.

According to the court documents, most of the charges in the case include conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.

Sounding a word of caution, Caldwell said, “We want to get the word out that if you get one of these calls, it is NOT the US government on the other end of the line. Even if your caller ID says “US Government” or “IRS”, or some other government agency, it is a scam.”

The call centers in India are based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat from where hails the present Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat for more than a decade. The US expects to get positive results from extradition requests for the charged persons from India as soon as possible.

Over the years, the IRS has warned the US citizens of such sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers. In a statement issued on October 31, 2013, IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel had said, “This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” adding, “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail.

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