I heard some good news on the radio while driving home from the office this afternoon. Indian law enforcement officers arrested 70 people working in call centers on the outskirts of Mumbai who were involved in a phone scam operation where they would call U.S. citizens and leave voice mail messages where they claimed to be U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents demanding payments for taxes those called supposedly owed with the threat of arrest if the callee doesn't pay. Assistant police commissioner Bharat Shelke stated that "Fearing arrest, some used to call back, and employees at the call center then demanded a few thousand dollars to settle the case." Shelke also stated that an estimated $36.5 million was extorted from Americans duped into paying the scammers. Unfortunately, the police haven't yet caught the ringleaders of the operation.
Indian authorities stated that the callers were trained to disguise their Indian accents, so that they would sound more like native-born Americans. Employees of the scammers were given a six-page script with tips on how to allay potential victims suspicions. For their jobs as criminals, callers were paid between 10,000 rupees and 70,000 rupees every month, which is equivalent to between $150 and $1,050 U.S. dollars, police said. Shelke stated "Employees were aware of the fraud, but since they were getting a good salary, they remained silent."
I received a call from a scammer pretending to be an IRS employee in February of this year. In that instance, the person I spoke to had an obvious Indian accent. When I told him I knew he was a fraudster, he responded with a reference to a sexual act and hung up. Subsequently, my wife has received many similar bogus IRS calls. In the case where I spoke to the caller in February, the scam operation was spoofing the calling phone number.
Such scammers don't target just Americans. Tax agencies in Canada and Australia have all issued warnings over such scam callers. Last year, Sahil Patel, a scammer residing in Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison for his role in a similar scam where callers posed as law enforcement officers or tax agents. He was also ordered to forfeit one million dollars. The call centers Patel worked with used software that allowed them to spoof calling numbers so that those called would see a phone number that appeared to be associated with the agency with which the callers claimed to be associated.
At a Senate hearing in 2015 prior to Patel's conviction, a U.S. Department of the Treasury official estimated that such scams generated between 9,000 and 12,000 complaints a week and had gained scammers more than $15.5 million from 3,000 victims.
So kudos to Indian law enforcement officers for the recent operation; I hope they catch the kingpin(s) for whom those arrested worked.
Indian police seek kingpins in tax scam aimed at Americans
By Rajendra Jadhav and Rahul Bhatia | Mumbai
Date: October 6, 2016
Pennsylvania man gets 14-1/2 years in prison for India-based phone scam
By Joseph Ax | New York
Date: July 8, 2015