THE THANE police claimed to have busted another call centre duping US citizens, this time in Ambernath. Officers said the callers would allegedly con the US citizens by promising loans and taking money from them as “processing fee”. They are suspected to have been operational at least since 2015, and to have made profits of over Rs 1 crore.
The Thane police had in October uncovered a scam in the Mira Road – Bhayandar belt, in which around nine call centres were found making fraudulent calls to US citizens and duping them. Officers said prima facie no link had been found between the two scams. In the Ambernath case, the police have made eight arrests and are interrogating 15 more people.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Thane) Madhukar Pandey said, “On Thursday night, our teams raided call centre Mount Logic Solutions in Ambernath East and arrested eight people. The accused would make calls to US nationals through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). They would talk in American accents and cheat US citizens by promising them loans.”
There were a total of 25 employees, including technicians, manager and callers, working there, and most of them were in their 20s — Class XII pass and with some prior experience in call centres. The callers would pretend to be calling from “Columbus Bank” and lure probable victims by promising them a loan of US $ 6,000, the police said.
The accused would then demand a processing fee of nearly $100 – $500, payable in iTunes gift cards, said the police. Through Skype, the accused would then pass on the 16-digit gift card numbers to a Ludhiana-based processor currently identified only as ‘Hyper’. Hyper would process these gift cards and transfer cash to the accused, said the police.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Abhishek Trimukhe said this was a “payday scam” — in operation since long in the US — where people are duped by promising them loans. In Payday scams, criminals claim to be representatives of loan companies and offer payday loans. These loans are paycheque advances of cash with an offer of payback in easy installments.
“The payday scam is the classic call centre scam that has been targeting US citizens for a long time,” Trimukhe said. A police team raided the nearly 3,000-sq ft ground floor premises of Mount Logic Solutions located in Ramesh Enterprises building in Ambernath around 11 pm on Thursday night.
The eight people they arrested include three managers, named Devesh Yerlekar, Sachin Chincholkar and Guru Prasad Shreyan. According to the police, Shreyan was an expert and had worked at several call centres in the past. The owner of the call centre is Jaya Gunjal, whose husband was former Shiv Sena corporator Ramesh Gunjal.
“Prima facie, it does not seem she was aware of the fraud,” Pandey said. Investigating officer ACP Mukund Hatote said, “Parts of this call centre appear to be legitimate, while only some callers made the fraudulent calls. This appears to be a trend, where some call centres, along with legitimate third party contracts, have a certain section devoted to fraudulent phone calls. This makes it difficult to detect if a call centre is involved in illegal activities.”
According to the police, in Ambernath, around eight callers were engaged in the fraud and made profits of nearly Rs 7-8 lakh per month. “We suspect this racket was operational since 2015, and hence one could say that they had made more than Rs 1 crore so far. However, we are still to go through their monetary transactions,” an officer said.