The call centre employees would call US residents and impersonate Internal Revenue Service officials. They would then threaten their victims with arrest or deportation if they did not pay up. (Representative image) Photograph: (Others)
Several arrests have been made in recent weeks, many of those arrested could face extradition to the US
The US justice department on Thursday indicted more than 60 individuals, including 32 Indians, for their alleged involvement in a multi-million dollar transnational scam originating from India-based call centres that cheated thousands of American citizens into paying fictitious debts.
Enforcement officials and prosecutors also charged five Indian call centres for their alleged involvement in the scam. Twenty arrests were made in the United States, while several arrests have been made in India recently.
Many of the Indians arrested could face extradition to the United States.
The indictment alleged that the defendants were involved in a "sophisticated fraudulent scheme organised by conspirators in India, including a network of call centres in Ahmedabad", the department of justice said.
Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call centre operators allegedly called potential victims and impersonated officials from the US Internal Revenue Service or US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to the indictment, the call centre operators then threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government. If the victims agreed to pay, the call centres would then immediately turn to a network of US-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers, federal prosecutors alleged.
"These crimes took place in the US and under our laws, we have jurisdiction over fraud that occurs in the US, whether the perpetrators are inside or outside the US. These people are calling the US, taking money from people in the US, engaged in various financial transactions in the US to get that money back to the scammers. All that happens in India is the calls in the bulk of the activity is in the US," assistant attorney general Leslie R Caldwell told reporters.
According to US officials, it is unlikely that the scammed money left the US, but those behind this gained access to the money through "hawala" (a network of money brokers or agents) racket.
Earlier, the Indian police had made at least 70 arrests from a call centre in Mumbai in another case. The US officials commended India for helping unearth the racket and has sought help in deporting the accused.
"We want to commend the Indians for having done that because we think it's important that they come in addition to our enforcement efforts, that they engage in enforcement efforts and they have the people there in India and we have do to the extradition process," Caldwell said.
John Roth, inspector general of the department of homeland security, said while the call centre schemes are extensive, many of them target the US, but not all of them.
"Because of the arrests in India a few weeks ago, and I think because of the publicity, we have seen a drop off in the success rate of these scams. It is important to know the US is looking and watching them and they could, if they are going to engage in that activity, they could sit in jail in the United States," Roth warned.
(WION with inputs from PTI)