Make us your home page
Instagram

U.S. charges 61 defendants in call center scam based in India

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell, right, of the Criminal Division, with Kenneth Magidson, center, of the Southern District of Texas, and U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George participate in a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington,  announcing charges in connection with a call center operation  based in India. [Associated Press]

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell, right, of the Criminal Division, with Kenneth Magidson, center, of the Southern District of Texas, and U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George participate in a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, announcing charges in connection with a call center operation based in India. [Associated Press]

WASHINGTON — It can be a frightening call to get — and it's a familiar one for many thousands of Americans.

Callers posing as tax and immigration agents are threatening arrest, deportation or other punishment unless money is sent to help clear up what they say is a deportation warrant or to cover supposedly unpaid income taxes.

The government says it's a scam that has tricked at least 15,000 people into shelling out more than $300 million.

The callers primarily targeted immigrants and the elderly and preyed on people's worst fears — that they could be locked up in prison or forced to leave the country — officials said.

In a first-of-its-kind nationwide takedown, the Justice Department announced charges Thursday against 61 defendants in the United States and abroad in connection with call center operations based in India. As agents fanned out across the country to make arrests, officials in Washington said they wanted to alert the public that the calls are all part of a criminal fraud.

"The U.S. government does not operate in this manner," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department's criminal division. "We never call to demand that money be loaded immediately onto prepaid cards. U.S. government agencies do not call to demand immediate payments to avoid deportation or to avoid arrest."

The indictment, which was issued by a federal grand jury last week in Houston, charges the defendants — which include five call centers — with crimes including wire fraud, money laundering and false impersonation of an officer of the United States. Authorities served nine warrants in eight states and arrested 20 people in the international fraud and money-laundering investigation, Caldwell said.

The indictment outlines a complex web of criminal actors, each with a different role in the conspiracy.

Callers posing as officials with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would tell unsuspecting victims on the other end that they had failed to pay taxes they owed or that they were at risk of deportation, and that a fast payment was needed to get them out of trouble.

The names and personal information of the potential targets were purchased through data brokers. "Runners" would then be responsible for retrieving the payments of the scammed funds and then depositing them in bank accounts. The funds that were extorted were laundered through wire transfers or prepaid debit cards registered with misappropriated personal information, the Justice Department said.

Though the calls would seem to be obviously bogus, officials say that even savvy and successful individuals have been duped. The callers would use information about their victims they learned through the Internet to present a facade of authenticity, and the number that appeared on a caller ID seemed to come from a legitimate U.S. government agency.

Among the victims: an elderly San Diego woman who forked over $12,300 after she was threatened with arrest if she didn't pay a penalty for fictitious tax violations. And when a Colorado man did not respond to repeated demands that he pay supposed back taxes, scammers posing as him called 911 and said that he was armed and eager to kill police officers, prompting law enforcement officers to surround him at home, officials said.

"The scammers in this case and so many like it are convincing. They are menacing and they are ruthless in their pursuit of their victims," said Bruce Foucart of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations. "They convey authority that leaves their victims terrified."

In a separate but similar call center scam, authorities in India said earlier this month that they'd arrested 70 people and were questioning hundreds more.

U.S. charges 61 defendants in call center scam based in India 10/27/16 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2016 5:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa is 15th-most popular city to move to with U-Haul

    Markets

    TAMPA —Tampa is undoubtedly a destination point, at least according to U-Haul.

    Tampa is the No. 15 destination for people moving with U-Haul trucks. | Times file photo
  2. Florida's economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall

    Business

    When it comes to economic growth, Florida's running alongside the leading states and well ahead of the United States as a whole.

  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Posh Guy Harvey RV park to open in Tampa Bay with $250,000 cottages

    Business

    HOLIDAY — Love those Guy Harvey T-shirts with the soaring marlins? In the not too distant future, you might be able to kick back in your own Guy Harvey cottage in the first-ever Guy Harvey RV park.

    Renderings of the clubhouse and an RV cottage site of the planned Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs.
[Guy Harvey Outpost Collection]
  5. Port Tampa Bay secures $9 million grant to deepen Big Bend Channel

    Business

    Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.