US cracks down on India-based call centre fraud racket

WASHINGTON: US justice authorities announced action on Thursday to shut down a group of Indian call centres that had cheated victims in the United States of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Justice Department said tens of thousands of victims, most of them from South Asia, were extorted by callers pretending to be US tax or immigration officials threatening them with arrest and deportation if they did not remit money to the government.

But the victims were then directed to people working with the call centres in the United States to collect the “fines” through prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and the money was quickly laundered out of the country, according to the Justice Department.

The agency said it had arrested 20 people and unveiled charges against five call centres and 32 individuals in India in the Ahmedabad-based operation.

The charges lodged by the US attorney in the southern district of Texas sets charges against a total of 56 people and five Indian companies for conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.

“These individuals demanded immediate payments from the people they called to avoid deportation, to avoid arrest or to cover supposedly unpaid income taxes,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.

“In the process, these criminals took hundreds of millions of dollars from this scam alone. The victims include people all over the United States... and targeted primarily immigrants and the elderly.” The call centre racket made use of informal money transfer businesses known as hawalas to move the money. Many of the people contacted did not know the money being transferred was part of an extortion scheme, according to the Justice Department.

Caldwell said the five call centres and individuals targeted in Thursday’s announ­cement were apart from the arrests early this month of some 70 people by Indian authorities also involved in call centre scams.

“We want to comment the Indians for having done that because we think it’s important that they come in, in addition to our enforcement efforts,” said Caldwell.

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