A policeman escorts call center employees on the outskirts of Mumbai, Wednesday , held on suspicion of tricking American citizens into sending them money by posing as U.S. tax officials
According to the Justice Dept indictment, callers from centers in India posed as federal Internal Revenue Service agents to threaten victims with lawsuits, arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they didn’t pay up.
Feds estimated, at least 15,000 Americans lost more than $300 million collectively to the four-year scam. Earlier this manth, a Texas grand jury indicted 24 people from nine U.S. states, 32 people from India and five call centers in Ahmedabad, India.
“It’s really important for the scammers in India to know that the United States is looking at this, is watching them and they could, if they engage in that activity, be extradited to the United States and could sit in jail … for several years,” warns U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.
Suspects arrested, Thursday in India covered their faces while walking to get booked in a video obtained by NBC News.
Investigators said the conspirators laundered victims’ money using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers often registered under fake or stolen identities.
Callers claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A federal agency’s name and Washington, D.C., area codes often showed up on the victims’ phones when they received the calls from the con artists, according to the feds.
The scammers defrauded an 85-year-old San Diego woman of $12,300. Another victim from Hayward, Calif., was lured into buying 276 stored value cards worth $136,000 by a phony IRS agents, according to invstigators.
A victim who would only identify herself by her first name told The Wall Street Journal she was warned to pay $6,850 in back taxes or face arrest the following day. Another victim, a retired military serviceman in his 60s who identified himself as Joseph, lost $25,000, he said.
“You just don’t think it is going to happen to you,” he told the Journal. “You just don’t think it is going to happen to you.”
The 61 defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering. The feds asked anyone else who may have fallen victim to the scam to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.