THE THANE police, which is probing a call centre scam through which thousands of US nationals were duped into believing they were getting calls from the Internal Revenue Service, are now taking a leaf out of the book of the criminals they are investigating.
To track down and record statements of victims targeted by the accused, the Thane Police is using a similar method to reach the victims, using technology to broadcast a single message to several thousand mobile phone numbers at a time. While the scamsters would use the system to leave a threatening voice message asking potential victims to call back the ‘IRS’, investigators are broadcasting voice messages informing US nationals that those who were duped may contact the Thane police by leaving a message on their website.
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An officer linked to the probe said that initially, they were skeptical about how they would contact all the US citizens who had been duped by the accused.
They studied the modus operandi used by the accused and found that they used a software and device to broadcast voice messages to several thousand phone numbers simultaneously. The message would ask the US citizens to call back IRS to resolve some taxation issue that was pending or face legal consequences. Several US citizens would then call back on the number provided in the message, which would actually connect them to the bogus call centres in Mira Road where callers would negotiate payments in gift cards.
The police that had seized the set-up used by the accused persons decided to use the same device and software to reach the victims. The numbers were already fed into the device, and the investigators had to only alter the message. “We blasted messages to numbers where the accused had broadcast messages asking victims to call back. We changed the message to tell them that we are from the Thane police that is investigating the IRS racket. We added that if they had lost money to people pretending to be calling from the IRS, they would go to the Thane police website and drop a message there,” said DCP (crime) Parag Manere.
The police also plan to issue Letter Rogatory (LR) at a later stage to record their statements formally. An LR is a letter sent from a court in India to a court abroad seeking their help in a legal process. “Once these people contact us through our website, we can issue LRs and get a US law enforcement agent to record their statement and send it to us. These statements will then be added to the chargesheet at a later stage,” a senior officer said.
So far, the defence lawyers in the case who have been seeking bail for the accused have pointed out before the court that there was no official victim in the case, and in the absence of a complainant, the basic requirement in a crime, their clients should not have been arrested by police. “Once we have the statement of victims and make them complainants, it will ensure that the defence can no longer use the ploy against us,” the officer said.
The call centre scam was busted on October 5 when Thane police raided 12 call centres in the Mira Road-Bhayander area where employees would make calls to US citizens posing to be IRS. They would then threaten the US citizen to instantly settle the tax default by making a payment.
The police suspect that Ahmedabad was the hub of these call centres and those who were operating these call centres there had then moved to the Mira Bhayander stretch. The US Justice Department on Thursday too charged 61 persons in connection with the IRS scam including several US citizens