The alarming calls were made from 9 call centres in Thane, near Mumbai. The victims were threatened with a tax investigation by executives pretending to be in the American Internal Revenue Services, aka IRS officials.
To escape the threatened investigation, many alarmed, unsuspecting Americans agreed to pay between $500 and $60,000. The call centres scammed nearly 6,500 Americans and estimates suggest they collected over 36 million dollars, or $150,000 a day making it one of the biggest frauds in India’s history.
Recently one night, as the workers began dialing America, around 200 policemen swooped in to cut the lines. Some 800 workers were detained and questioned through the night and 70 were arrested. Among them were nine kingpins who came up with the ‘business model’. The rest were let off with a warning pending further inquiries.
Thane police chief Param Bir Singh said “The scammers would call people and say that if they did not pay, then the cops would raid their house in half an hour”.
The workers, some barely out of school or in college, would make the calls from a data base of numbers leaked from the US, and blackmail them. The parents of the young workers say the young people were tricked into believing they were doing legitimate work. Some were also told they have to make recovery calls for credit card and debit card companies.
The owner of one of the companies based in the US, allegedly stole information and passed it on.
Investigators say one or two of every 100 calls would hit the mark. Police say those involved in the scam at the Indian end retained 70% of the earnings, with 30% going to their US collaborators.
The Thane police commissioner told the media that 81 hard disks, high-end servers, other electronic equipment as well as other hardware were seized in the raid in Thane.
The police say that the investigation could open up cases from other countries.
A US State Department official said they have seen reports and are following the situation to confirm any US citizen involvement. They would also refer them to Indian investigators for more details on the case.