The US Department of Justice (DoJ) unsealed today charges against 61 individuals and financial entities that engaged in over-the-phone scams targeting US citizens.
The defendants list includes 56 people and five companies running call centers in the city of Ahmedabad, India.
Authorities said they already arrested 20 individuals across the US, and that Indian authorities arrested 32 suspects on their end.
According to court papers, the DoJ said the five call centers made over 15,000 victims and defrauded US citizens of over $300 million.
The scam had call center operators acquire personal details of US citizens from data traders and then call their cell or home phone number.
The call center operators would pose as IRS agents and threaten the victim with fines and even jail time for due taxes. Scammers would require the victim to make payments to a bank account.
US-based individuals would then immediately empty out the bank accounts and launder the money by purchasing prepaid debit cards or send money abroad as wire transfers via intermediaries. In most cases, the crooks would use fake data and IDs to register the prepaid debit cards.
For some transactions, the scammers also sent money abroad through the informal hawala money transfer system, used predominantly in Asia.
In some cases, call center operators scammed victims of large sums of money, such as $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, or $136,000 from a victim in Hayward, California.
In some variations of the scam, call center operators offered short-term loans or grants, for which the victim would have had to pay an initial processing fee.
DoJ charges vary from conspiracy to commit identity theft to false personation of an officer of the United States, and from wire fraud to money laundering.
At the beginning of the month, Indian authorities cracked down on three call centers in Mumbai, arresting 70 suspects and arraigning 630 more, also for impersonating IRS agents.
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