Call centre scammers from India were posing as US government officials and threatening people with arrest and deportation unless they paid a fine.
The US Department of Justice laid charges on dozens of people behind a sophisticated network of Indian call centers, payment processors, lead generators, and data brokers that are alleged to have defrauded hundreds of millions of dollars from victims in the US.
According to the complaint, the scammers moved money so fast that victims often didn't have a chance to stop the transfers. US authorities estimate there are 15,000 victims, and a further 50,000 people who’ve had identities stolen in order to move funds out of the US.
US authorities arrested 20 people on Thursday and charged 32 individuals and five Indian call centre accused of being involved in the racket.
The scammers employed tactics that are common to online criminals, including hiring money mules, and even ‘swatting’ victims who refuse to pay. One victim had armed offices turn up at his house after scammers placed a 911 call posing as the man and claiming that he was armed and wanted to kill police, the Washington Post reports.
The scammers also spoofed the numbers of US authorities when claiming to be officials from the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Victims would often be directed to wire transfer funds to the scammers through services such as Western Union, which would be collected by mules using fake IDs.
The scams took place between 2012 and 2014, with victims paying sums between a few hundred dollars to over $100,000.
In one case, a victim was told to purchase 276 MoneyPak stored value cards with a value of $136,000 and then directed to tell the phone scammers the PINs for those cards. In some cases, after MoneyPak PINs were disclosed by victims, the scammers would then transfer the funds to prepaid debit cards and spent within the US.
“U.S. government agencies do not make these types of calls, and if you receive one, contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment,” said executive associate director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.