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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Maharashtra: Malad call centres ran ‘IRS racket’, duped Americans, say police

According to the police, one of the accused illegally acquired customer data of American nationals and sold these to the call centres at Rs 5,000 for 50,000 names.

Written by Srinath Rao | Mumbai | Updated: November 4, 2017 7:22:22 am
fake call centre, mumbai fake call centre, fake call centre in mumbai, mumbai news The employees had recorded voice messages which they would send to at least a 1,000 Americans every day. Representational photo

Two call centres in Malad in Mumbai, raided for running a racket similar to the one busted a year ago at 12 call centres in Mira Road and Bhayander area — their employees allegedly duped American nationals by posing as officials of the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) — had the same modus operandi, investigations have revealed.

The Mumbai Police Crime Branch had on Wednesday raided a call centre in Kachpada and another at Chincholi Bunder, both in Malad west, and arrested 11 employees. Apart from them, the police arrested a man for allegedly selling illegally, bulk customer data to the call centres. Yet another man was arrested as he was suspected to have got illegally acquired gift vouchers encashed with the help of an accomplice in the the US.

The crime branch said that the call centre in Kachpada was run by Malwani resident Mushir Shaikh (28). “He has studied till class 12 and worked at several call centres before starting his own six months ago. He has undergone training in speaking English with an American accent,” said a senior crime branch official.

He added that Shaikh had rented a small space in a building and ran the operations there along with three others, who were equal partners. The call centre at Chincholi Bunder was slightly larger employing seven people and headed by Malwani resident Zarar Haider (24), the police said. The officer added that Haider had worked at several call centres in the past seven years.

“The other men arrested are residents of Goregaon and Malad with experience of having worked at call centres,” added the official. Dilip Sawant, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime), said that 9 laptops, 8 CPUs, 2 wi-fi routers and 14 cellphones seized from the call centres were being analysed.

The police said that with the arrest of the two other men, Amey Lokare, a Malwani-based computer engineer and Mira Road resident Abhisehk Dubey, they had completed the chain of investigation. According to the police, Lokare illegally acquired bulk customer data of US nationals and sold it to the call centres at the rate of Rs 5,000 for 50,000 names, and Dubey used a source in the US to encash the vouchers purchased by the victims.

A crime branch unit III team led by inspectors Jagdish Sail and Sanjay Nikumbhe found that the call centre employees had recorded voice messages, which they would send to at least a 1,000 American nationals every day using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

“They would pose as IRS officials and tell their victims that a five or seven year assessment of their income returns had revealed anomalies and offered them a way out to avoid persecution from federal tax authorities,” said a crime branch official.

Like the Mira Road and Bhayander call centres – owned by Sagar Thakkar, the alleged mastermind of the IRS scam there – the Malad call centres waited for worried Americans to contact them. “Thse accused were trained to speak with American accent and tell their victims that if they purchased iTunes gift vouchers of a particular amount, the rest of their income tax dues would be waived. For every 1,000 messages they sent, the call centres would receive at least 50 calls,” said the officer.

The call centre employees also allegedly asked their victims for their pin codes and directed them to shops nearest their homes to purchase gift vouchers. The police added that the victims were then required to reveal the scratch card number of the vouchers.

“These codes were passed onto Dubey, who used a source in the US to immediately encash the vouchers. Dubey would keep 40% of the amount while the rest went to the call centres. We are probing how the money was transferred to the accused from America,” said the officer.

Investigations revealed that the call centres used a prepared script to speak to their American victims, including detailed responses for all queries. “The accused are skilled at speaking and some of their calls would last more than half an hour,” said the officer.

The script, the police said, is the same as the one allegedly used at Thakkar’s call centres. “This script has been circulating in call centres even before the ones in Mira Road and Bhaydner were raided. A lot of people who used it have just never been caught,” said the officer. The police are preparing a list of American nationals the Malad call centres have allegedly duped in the past six months.

“There are between 200 and 300 victims so far. The amounts taken from each individual ranges between $100 and $4,500. We are tabulating the amount,” said an officer who is part of the investigation. The men were produced in court on Friday and remanded in police custody until November 9, the police said.

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