India is emerging as a major centre for fraud although it has no such past reputation, an FBI agent serving as a legal attache at the US embassy in New Delhi told The New York Times after police in Thane last year unearthed a scam in which callers from bogus call centres in Mira Road area and Bhayandar duped US citizens by pretending to be calling from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). While 80 people who were present at the call centres were arrested when they were raided, the police said the scam was just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’
Suhel Daud, the FBI agent, told the newspaper that the presence of a large call-centre culture and increasing number of English-speaking youngsters looking for jobs are some of the trends that lead to such a scam.
The Thane scam was busted on October 4 last year when the police raided nine call centres in the area. The callers would threaten US citizens to instantly settle the tax default by making a payment to them. Over 20 persons including Sagar Thakkar alias Shaggy, the mastermind, and his sister Reema have been named as wanted accused.
The NYT report details how Betsy Broder, who covers international fraud at the Federal Trade Commission, got a call from two teenagers from India who shared details of the scam.
“If they reached a person who was sufficiently terrified or gullible — this was known in the business as a “sale” — they would instruct that person to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of iTunes cards to avoid prosecution, they said; the most rattled among them complied. The victim would then send the codes from the iTunes cards to the swindlers, giving them access to the money on the card,” the report said detailing how Americans got conned by people pretending to be IRS officials.
The report also detailed how the scammers preyed on fear of Americans and threatened to put their families in trouble if they did not make the payments. Inaben Desai, a woman in Texas, was one of the victims in 2014 who was robbed of $17,786, nearly all her savings.
A top police official told The Indian Express in October that revelations made by the mastermind in the case pointed to the accused being involved in more scams. There were also fears that the accused may have been involved in a medical pharma case as well.