21 Indians in US get sentences up to 20 years in call centre scam
21 July 2018
As many as 21 persons of Indian origin in the US have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for involvement in a multimillion-dollar India-based call centre scam which defrauded thousands of US citizens of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Authorities on Friday announced the sentencing of the 21 in a telefraud scam run out of India-based call centres that defrauded Americans and legal immigrants by threatening them with arrest, deportation, imprisonment and fines for purportedly unpaid dues to the government.
The prison sentences for the 21 people convicted this week ranges from 4 to 20 years. All the 21 sentenced are either Indians or naturalised Americans of Indian descent, and some of them have consented to be deported back to India after the completion of their jail terms. All of them were linked to call centres based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Five of the convicts were sentenced on Friday by the same Texas federal court that had sentenced the rest earlier this week. Including the three sentenced earlier, this brings the total to 24, making it perhaps the single-largest arrest and sentencing of Indians and Indian-descent people in a single case.
Announcing the sentencing, the US department of justice said 32 India-based conspirators were also named in the indictment but haven’t been arraigned yet — presumably because they remain in India. Five India-based call centers have also been named, with similar charges against them.
"The stiff sentences imposed represent the culmination of the first-ever large scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call centre scam industry," US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
"This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimisation of the most vulnerable members of the US public.
"The transnational criminal ring of fraudsters and money launderers who conspired to bilk older Americans, legal immigrants and many others out of their life savings through their lies, threats and financial schemes must recognise that all resources at the Department's disposal will be deployed to shut down these telefraud schemes, put those responsible in jail, and bring a measure of justice to the victims," Sessions said.
According to US officials, the call center scam defrauded thousands of US residents of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Prosecutors said the Indian call centers used various telephone fraud schemes to defraud mainly vulnerable Americans, including the elderly and legal immigrants.
According to various admissions made in connection with the guilty pleas, between 2012 and 2016, the defendants and their conspirators perpetrated a complex fraud and money laundering scheme in which individuals from call centres in Ahmedabad impersonated officials from the Internal Revenue Service or US Citizenship and Immigration Services in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout America.
Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, the operators targeted US victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay the alleged money owed to the government.
Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to make a payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money.
Once the payment was done, the call centers turned to a network of runners based in the US to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing reloadable cards or retrieving wire transfers, the Justice Department said.
In a typical scenario, call centers directed runners to purchase these stored value reloadable cards and transmit the unique card number to India-based co-conspirators who registered the cards using the misappropriated personal identifying information of the US citizens.
The India-based co-conspirators then loaded these cards with scam funds obtained from the victims.
The runners used the stored value cards to purchase money orders that they deposited into the bank account of another person.
Indian authorities have been cooperating in this case by arresting many people and shutting down call centers found involved. One of the main conspirators is Sagar “Shaggy” Thakkar, who was arrested by Mumbai police in April 2017. He was allegedly in touch with Hardik Patel, co-owner of one of the call centres and a key player who has been sentenced to over 15 years.
The indictment for the case also charged 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centeres with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. These defendants have not yet been arraigned.
Earlier, three other Indians were sentenced for their involvement in the same fraud and money laundering scheme.
A global leader in the call-centre business, India has also emerged over the years as home to fraudsters and scammers who use the same business model to target Americans. One US law enforcement agency found Indians behind tech support scams — when a virus alert freezes the screen, the number provided for calling to unlock it has been traced to India on many occasions.