EMPLOYEES at the call centres raided by the Thane police last week were told that a hurricane that hit the US in 2002 had “swept away” tax-related documents of several thousand Americans, and that they were being employed to call US tax defaulters and settle disputes over the phone. Several employees at the Mira Road-based bogus call centres claimed to have been told by their employers, upon raising doubts on why they were calling US citizens and impersonating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officers, that the work was outsourced to them.
The Thane police investigators, however, said the employees were well aware that the operation was a scam.
Prakash Modi, whose wife is one of the 70 people arrested by Thane police from 12 call centres across Mira Road, said, “My family was facing financial crisis and I had also taken some loans. While she was already working at one place earning Rs 15,000, one of her friends told her that she could earn a much better salary at a Mira Road call centre. Hence, she went ahead with the job,” said Modi.
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He added, “After she joined work, they were told they were to settle tax defaults on part of the American citizens on behalf of the IRS. They were told that there had been a hurricane in the US in 2002 that led to several tax documents of thousands of people being destroyed. Hence, the citizens had to be called manually.”
When someone raised a doubt about why the IRS gave the responsibility to India, one of the superiors would say it was because US call centres were charging them much more for the job, said a relative of another accused who refused to be named.
Modi said he wasn’t suspicious during the months that his wife was working there. Looking back now, however, he admits there were signs that should have alerted them. “After my wife joined them, she was in a junior position. Within 15 days, the employer told her that she was working well and they were promoting her to a senior designation. Within a month again, she was promoted to a senior managerial position. In which company do people get promotions within a month? We should have realised something was amiss,” he added.
A majority of those arrested claimed to have been employed with the company for small periods ranging from three months to a few days. One of the accused who did not wish to be named said she had been working for a month and had realised that there was something amiss. “I joined on September 5 and planned to wait till October 5 to collect my salary and quit. However, the raids happened on October 4,” she said.
The family members of one accused had come to the court with his exam hall ticket. “He has his final year BSc exams from October 17. We don’t want this case to ruin his future. We have come to request the judge to grant him bail,” said a relative.
Two of the arrested accused are minors and have been sent to a children’s home.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Mukund Hatote, the investigating officer, was, however, skeptical about these claims. “The very first day when the employees join work, they have to say that they are calling from the IRS headquarters in the US. Any person in their right mind would understand on the first day itself that this was a fraudulent activity,” he said. The police have till now raided 12 call centres in the Mira Road area and arrested 70 employees who would call up US citizens claiming to be from the IRS and demand money to settle tax disputes or face arrest.