IT WAS a tip-off from three alleged insurance fraud accused that led the Thane police to conduct raids on eight Mira Road call centres late on Tuesday. The three men were arrested a fortnight ago. “The arrested trio revealed that foreigners were being duped… When we verified the information, sources confirmed and identified call centres that were extorting from Americans in dollars,” an investigating official from the Thane police told The Indian Express.
Subsequently, the police sent a mole to join one of the call centres as a fresh recruit and verify the information before conducting the raid. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a “tax investigation” by Mira Road call centre executives pretending to be officials from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To escape tax investigation, Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said, many Americans agreed to pay between $500 and $60,000. The call centres were reportedly making Rs 1.5 crore daily in this manner.
As many as 700 people have been booked, including 70 who were arrested on charges of cheating, extorting and impersonating under the Indian Penal Code, along with relevant sections under the Indian Telegraph Act and the IT Act. These call centres were located at three different locations — six in a business park off the Western Express Highway, one in a bungalow and one in a small shop in a residential building of the suburb. The illegal centres had been operating for nearly a year.
“We could not raid the place without verifying the business inside the location. We needed to internally cross-check, so we sent a mole,” said a senior police officer privy to the investigation. The mole, said the police, was accepted as a recruit at one of the call centres following a walk-in interview a week before the raid.
“We got information from our mole that the business was illegal. All the employees were asked to deposit all electronic devices such as pen drives and mobile phones. There were two bouncers deployed. The mole was hired as a trainee and was being trained separately from the operations of the call centre. The mole was given a six-page script to learn and rehearse before being allowed to be a part of the operations,” said the officer. While the mole was inside taking notes on the operations, the police were doing a recce of the locations they were going to raid. The police received information from their mole that the calls were mainly being made to people in the US.
“Those employees who would call the Americans were called ‘dialers’. Every 15 ‘dialers’ had a supervisor called a ‘closer’ who would negotiate with the Americans regarding the money to be deposited,” said a police officer. The ‘dialers’ would start work at 7 pm and leave several “threatening voice mails” to a list of Americans. They would be given a 30-minute break at 11 pm and two smaller coffee breaks at 1.45 am and 3.45 am. “These voice calls would end with a number that the victims could contact for further information. When the victim called back on the given number the ‘dialer’ would first speak to the American and then transfer the calls to their ‘closer’,” said an officer.
Preliminary probe reveals that the accused would direct the victims to specific shops and malls depending on their locations to purchase gift cards to make the financial transactions. “The Americans would be even instructed to scratch the 16 digit serial number either in the parking lot or inside their car. They were threatened to be discreet or else their homes would be raided. Since the Americans were not allowed to disconnect the calls, some conversations lasted even three hours,” said an officer. According to the mole, said the police, the employees were paid in cash on the fifth of every month.
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