MUMBAI, Oct 7, (RTRS): Americans were swindled out of tens of millions of dollars in an alleged tax scam that was run for about a year from call centers on the outskirts of Mumbai, a senior investigator said on Thursday, predicting more arrests on top of the 70 made so far.
Assistant police commissioner Bharat Shelke told Reuters the alleged scammers posed as US Internal Revenue Service officials and left victims voicemails accusing them of tax evasion and threatening them with arrest. “Fearing arrest, some used to call back, and employees at the call center then demanded a few thousand dollars to settle the case,” he said.
In lieu of cash, employees also accepted alternatives such as numbers from unused iTunes and gift cards. The 70 people arrested were among more than 700 detained when police raided makeshift call centers — a bungalow, an office building and a shopping center in the Mumbai suburb of Thane — late on Tuesday.
Shelke said an estimated $36.5 million was extorted from US residents.
On Thursday, a court granted police custody of all 70, including the owner of one of the call center buildings, until Oct 10. But police said they have not yet captured the ring leaders of the scheme, which they suspect was run out of the western Indian state of Gujarat.
Authorities say callers were trained to switch their Indian accent for a passable American one. They studied a script six pages long that explained how conversations would develop, with tips on tackling doubts and suspicions.
According to training documents seen by Reuters, if targets asked for permission to speak to an attorney, workers were told to reply (sic): “This would be termed third party discloser, as per the federal law and if you go ahead and do that IRS will have complete right to go ahead discloser to national television, local newspaper and your employer. Moreover, it would be a penalty charges up to $50,000.”
A police official said several of the call center workers were high school graduates who were “very convincing in recorded conversations.” Callers were paid between 10,000 rupees ($150) and 70,000 rupees ($1,050) every month, police said. An advertisement placed on Aug 30 by one of the companies raided by police said it was a seeking a “call centre executive” to handle calls to the United States and Australia. Experience was not necessary. The salary was described as a “good hike” and the bonus “unlimited.” Tax agencies in countries including the United States, Canada and Australia have all issued warnings over scam callers.