Over 60 people in the U.S. and India face conspiracy and wire fraud charges in the largest crackdown against a telephone scam ever, officials said.
Callers from centers in India posed as federal agents to threaten victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they didn’t pay up, according to an 81-page indictment unsealed Thursday.
At least 15,000 Americans lost more than $300 million collectively during the four-year scam, according to the feds. A Texas grand jury indicted 24 people from nine U.S. states, 32 people from India and five call centers in Ahmedabad, India, earlier this month.
“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,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.
Suspects arrested in India on Thursday covered their faces with bandanas while walking to get booked in full view of the cameras in video obtained by NBC News. Indian law enforcement officials set up stacks of seized cash on a table at a news conference.
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 bilked an 85-year-old San Diego woman for $12,300, investigators said. The conspirators lured another victim from Hayward, Calif., into buying 276 stored value cards worth $136,000 after calling the victim several times as phony IRS agents, according to the feds.
A victim who identified herself only as Christine 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.
With News Wire Services
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