Thane, India — For years telephone scammers based in India have preyed upon U.S. citizens by posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials.
The telephone con job works like this: the scammers phone Americans taxpayers and pretend to be with the IRS. After demanding the victims’ financial and other bank details for what they call “tax revision,” they accuse the victims of not paying their full income taxes, and threaten them jail time if they don’t pay the supposed past-due balance immediately.
For example, at a recent news conference Indian authorities played a recording taken from one scam call center’s computer. In the recording, a caller with a non-U.S. accent told an American man that he owed more than $11,780. If the man didn’t settle the debt then and there, the caller said, he would be arrested within hours, be given a five-year prison sentence, and be required to pay $100,000 in fines.
The man was told he could avoid prosecution by immediately going to a Walgreen store, buying Apple iTunes gift cards worth $1,000, and giving the scammer information that would enable the scammer to use the cards.
The victim was told to stay on his cell phone with the scammer until the transaction was completed:
“Keep yourself on speaker and get dressed,” the caller said. “We are running short of time. Within two hours you will be taken into custody.”
In some cases, instead of asking for gift cards, the crooks would ask victims to transfer money into bank accounts.
American officials have been aware of this and similar swindles for years. But they have been helpless to react because the scammers were calling from outside the U.S.
Meanwhile, an IRS watchdog group called the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has logged nearly 2 million complaints in just three years about scammers who pose as IRS agents.
The swindlers have collected more than $47 million from nearly 9,000 innocent American taxpayers, according to TIGTA.
However, although American officials were unable to shut down the India-based scammers, police in India were tracking the crooks based on the numerous complaints.
And now a major raid in India has substantially weakened the power of the scam organization.
Late at night on October 4 and early into the following morning, more than 200 police officers, most of whom were from India’s Criminal Investigation Division, raided multiple scam call-center offices in the Indian city of Thane, part of the Greater Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
Police detained 500 swindlers
In the India call-center industry, which serves as an outsource for scores of legitimate American businesses, employs millions of Indian citizens. Witnesses in the area who knew that the centers existed just assumed the crooks were doing standard lawful call-center work. Of course, this was far from the truth.
“You can call it a scam center”
said Parag Manere, deputy police commissioner in the city where the raid took place.
Another official, Param Bir Singh, police commissioner, acknowledged that other call centers could still be operating in the area. He admitted,
“It could be bigger than this”