Over the past year, many American citizens were reportedly duped by operators at nine call centres in the satellite township of Mira Road, about 40 km from Mumbai. Late Tuesday night, Thane police raided these call centres, booked 700 persons and made 70 arrests.
According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a “tax investigation” by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said to escape tax investigation, many Americans agreed to pay between US $500and $60,000.
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An audio recording of an employee at one of these call centres, now in the possession of the Thane Police, had him tell his prospective victim: “There is a lawsuit filed in your name regarding tax evasion or tax fraud.”
An officer said the call centre employees were trained to speak with an American accent. The nine alleged bogus call centres were located at three different locations, seven in a business park off Western Express Highway, one in a bungalow in Mira Road and one in a small shop in a residential building of the suburb.
“The employees would begin the conversation telling the listener the badge number and name of the IRS official. They would threaten the Americans saying if they didn’t pay up, then the police would raid their home in the next half hour,” said Singh. Investigations showed the calls were made through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). “The accused had spoofed the toll number of IRS. So when the victim received a call, Internal Revenue Services would flash on their phone,” Singh said.
Victims would be coaxed to purchase a gift card of a specific brand and forced to transfer the money through these gift cards. “These gift cards would have a 16-digit serial number that the employees would coerce the American to share over the phone. The employees would threaten the victims that if they disconnected the line their house would be raided,” an officer said. Once the employee has the serial number, a transaction is made and the line is disconnected.
Police identified eight main accused in the operation as Haidar Ali (24), Hamza Bolesar (34), Kabir Vardhan (26), Arjun Vasudev (24), Abdul Zariwala (22), Johnson Dontosa (24), Govind Thakur (28) and Ankit Gupta (19). These eight, and 62 others, were arrested on charges of cheating under the Indian Penal Code, along with relevant sections under the Indian Telegraph Act and the IT Act.
“In our raid, we found 772 persons, 70 of whom have been arrested, 630 more are listed accused but not arrested yet and 72 others who have been let off for not having any direct benefit from the con,” Singh said.
Police suspect that one of the owners of the call centres worked in the US and stole information that was misused. According to Thane police, a day’s turnover from all these call centres was around Rs 1.5 crore.
“Our initial investigation shows they had so many contact details of American nationals that only two of a hundred people would be deceived,” an officer claimed.
The police said they seized 851 hard disks, internet servers, DVRs, laptops, all worth more than Rs 1 crore.