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Feds charge 61 people in call center scam threatening victims with arrest

October 30, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Feds charge 61 people in call center scam threatening victims with arrest

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More than 60 individuals in India and the United States face wire fraud and conspiracy charges in the largest crackdown against a telephone call center scam ever.

Callers from centers in India acted as federal agents to threaten victims with imprisonment, arrest, penalties, or deportation if they didn’t pay up, an 81-page indictment that was unsealed on Thursday revealed.

A minimum of 15,000 Americans collectively lost over $300 million during the four-year scam, the feds announced. A Texas grand jury indicted 24 people across nine U.S. states, 32 people from India and five call centers in Ahmedabad, India, in early October.

“It’s really important for the scammers in India to know that the United States is looking at this, is watching them and they could, if they engage in that activity, be extradited to the United States and could sit in jail … for several years,” said Leslie Caldwell, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General.

On Thursday, suspects, who were arrested in India and covered their faces with bandanas as they walked to get booked in full view of the cameras. Indian authorities set up stacks of seized cash on a table at a press conference.

Investigators said the suspects laundered the victims’ money using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers registered under false or stolen identities.

Callers told their victims that they were either from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Internal Revenue Service. The scammers would use a federal agency’s name when contacting victims and Washington, D.C. area codes often appeared on the victims’ caller IDs.

The conspirators even bilked an 85-year-old San Diego woman for $12,300, according to investigators. They deceived another victim from Hayward, California, into purchasing 276 stored value cards worth $136,000 after calling the victim several times as imitation IRS agents.

A victim, who only identified herself as Christine, told The Wall Street Journal that she was threatened to pay $6,850 in back taxes or she would be arrested the next day. Another victim, a retired military serviceman who identified himself as Joseph, was robbed of $25,000.

The 61 defendants face charges of false personation of an officer of the United States, conspiracy to commit identity theft, wire fraud, and money laundering. Authorities have requested that anyone else who may have fallen victim to the scam file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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