Foiled phone scam in Mumbai conned thousands of Americans, netted millions

A large phone scam in India targeted thousands of Americans for millions of dollars. Photograph:( Getty )

New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 06, 2016, 10.56 AM (IST)

In Mumbai, 750 people pretending to work at a call centre were actually engaged in a very large scam targeting US residents.  

NDTV reports that they called Americans posing as representatives from the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), the American agency that collects taxes. Next, they told whoever picked up the phone that an investigation targeting them would commence, unless they paid anywhere from $500-60,000 Dollars.

Thane police chief, Param Bir Singh, was quoted as saying: "They would call people and say that if they didn't pay, then the cops would come and raid their house in half an hour."

The Guardian, quoting Sukhada Narkar, a spokesperson for the Thane police, described the scam a little differently. The caller would tell the person on the other end that they had defaulted on their taxes, and that a payment must be made. Once the scammer obtained their bank information, they would drain the account.

If there is some ambiguity about exactly how the scam was perpetrated, its enormity is not in doubt: late Tuesday evening, 200 police entered seven different premises, detained 772 people and arrested about 70, including the eight masterminds of the operation. Investigations are still ongoing.

This fraud had been going on for about a year, netting 10 million Rupees a day, or about $150,000. Nearly 6,500 Americans were defrauded, and in total the scam brought in over 36 million dollars.  

NDTV, citing investigators, says that the con worked successfully in only one or two per cent of the calls. But with hundreds of people calling for hours a day, that appears to be enough.