WITH THE arrest of five persons, the Mumbai Police on Thursday claimed to have busted a fake call centre operating in Goregoan West, where employees allegedly used to dupe US citizens by scaring them into believing that their social security numbers were being investigated for irregularities.
Acting on a tip-off received by Additional Commissioner of Police (North Region) Dilip Sawant, teams from the Goregaon and Dindoshi police raided a rented premises inside a commercial chawl at Sejal Park, Goregaon West, around 1 am.
Naseem Khan (31), Abhishek Salian (31), Yogesh Sharma (25), Pradeepkumar Saha (29) and Asif Lanjekar (30), aged between 35 and 40 years, were arrested and 15 computer hard disks, a server, an Internet router, a laptop and five cellphones seized.
The police has identified Sharma as being the brains behind the operation, while Saha provided technical support and Lanjekar made calls. Khan and Salian, the police said, partnered Sharma in running the enterprise. “The accused had recruited nine employees, of whom three had left shortly after joining,” said a senior officer.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone XI) Sangramsing Nishandar said that the accused had purchased personal data of thousands of US citizens from an individual in Hyderabad. “This data comprised a person’s name, phone number and the social security number.”
An officer said that the accused set up the call centre a month-and-a-half ago. “Using a software, the accused composed a text message addressed to US citizens, claiming to represent a government tax authority and informing them that their social security numbers had been compromised. This message also contained a phone number to contact for help,” said the officer.
The messages were sent using Voice Internet Protocol to all those persons whose data the accused had illegally procured. Those who reacted to the messages were patched on to a call centre employee trained to respond according to a prepared script.
This script first came to the attention of Indian investigators in 2016, when the police raided call centres on Mira Road, where employees had been allegedly duping US nationals by posing as Indian Revenue Service officials and scaring them into paying up tax returns. The alleged mastermind was Sagar Thakkar, who was arrested in 2017 after being deported from Dubai. His call centres are alleged to have cheated over 6,500 Americans.
“The script used by the accused in Goregaon is similar to the Mira Road case,” said the officer. The difference, claimed the police, was that the Goregaon accused would ask their victims to pay small amounts to resolve the issues related to their social security numbers.
“Most Americans who received the text message would ignore it. But a few would call back,” said an officer of Goregaon police. While fielding each call, the employees would pose as officials from different US law enforcement agencies. The goal, however, was the same — to frighten the caller into believing that their social security numbers were being investigated and persuading them to make a payment to solve the problem.
The money, said the police, was deposited in an US bank account operated by an Indian national. So far, the police has pegged the proceeds of the crime at Rs 1.5 crore.
On Thursday, the five men were produced in court, which remanded them to police custody until Tuesday.