The Thane police on Saturday arrested Sagar Thakkar, alias Shaggy, the alleged mastermind of the bogus call centre racket operating from centres in Mira Road-Bhayander area and other parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Investigators said preliminary interrogation yielded more information regarding the call centres in the Mira Road-Bhayander belt and a parallel network of bogus call centres operating across the country.
Thakkar has reportedly told the police that bogus call centres making fraudulent calls to foreign countries number in hundreds in the country and they operate from Hyderabad, Kolkata and Shillong, besides other cities and towns of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Jharkhand.
Thakkar has claimed that such call centres also exist in other countries, including Pakistan, Russia, Philippines, China and some African countries from where fraudulent phone calls are made to countries with large English-speaking populations.
Thane police commissioner Param Bir Singh said: “Thakkar was arrested after the Mumbai international airport immigration officials alerted us about his presence there. A look out circular had been issued against Thakkar since October 7, two days after we raided nine bogus call centres. Thakkar had been in Dubai for the past four months and in between, he had visited Thailand.”
Singh added that the US officials had earlier issued a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against him based on which he was detained at the Dubai airport recently. However, since they did not have enough evidence, Thakkar was allowed to go.
“Thakkar has told us that when he learnt that India was in the process of issuing an RCN against him, he decided to return. An RCN would mean that he would be restricted to Dubai and caught if he tried leaving the country,” the commissioner said.
Deputy Police Commissioner Abhishek Trimukhe said that Thakkar had a residency permit in Dubai. “Thakkar owned a company in Dubai. As per the laws in Dubai, if one owns a company there, he is given a residency permit. Hence he decided to flee to Dubai,” Trimukhe said.
During Thakkar’s interrogation, the police found that the 24-year-old resided in Nalasopara and had done a BSc in chemistry. Some of his classmates, who later became his friends, including Tapesh Gupta, a wanted accused and one of the alleged masterminds, had been roped in by Thakkar to run the network of fraudulent call centres.
“He told us that as a 15-year-old, he started out selling and purchasing four-wheelers online. He was aware of fraudulent call centres operating in Gujarat. He had learnt the tricks of the trade and then started such call centres at a large scale in the Mira-Bhayander area,” an officer said.
“Thakkar has an amazing knowledge of our laws, US laws and various systems that are available online. He used his knowledge to create these call centres,” Singh said.
The call centres used technologies like burner phones while calling up US citizens.
“Burner phones mask the location of the caller several times over making it impossible to track the place from where calls are being made. Hence, the US officials could not tracks the calls in spite of being plagued by them,” Trimukhe said.
The accused would use a software with which they could mine telephone numbers of US citizens from the Internet who would then receive these fraudulent calls. “Technologically, the system was foolproof,” an officer said.
“He has also told us that apart from the IRS scam, there is an immigration scam, a pharma scam, a banking scam and a tech scam, which are being run by different networks. All of these are executed by making fraudulent phones calls and convincing people to make payments,” Trimukhe said.
Between 2012 and 2015, at least 500 employees from nine offices in the Mira Bhayander area and Ahmedabad reportedly made calls to hundreds of US citizens posing as IRS officials and demanding that they settle their outstanding tax disputes or face arrest. The accused are suspected to have duped US nationals of an estimated $ 300 million. So far, 70 people have been arrested and 397 chargesheeted in the case.