US charges 61 in call-center scam based in India

Associated Press


It can be a frightening call to get – and it’s a familiar one for many thousands of Americans.

Callers posing as tax and immigration agents are threatening arrest, deportation or other punishment unless money is sent to help clear up what they say is a deportation warrant or to cover supposedly unpaid income taxes.

The government says it’s a scam that’s tricked at least 15,000 people into shelling out more than $300 million.

In a first-of-its kind nationwide takedown, the Justice Department announced charges Thursday against 61 defendants in the United States and abroad in connection with call-center operations based in India. As agents fanned out across the country to make arrests, officials in Washington advised the public that the callers on the other end of the line are fraudsters and not representatives of the U.S. government.

“The U.S. government does not operate in this manner,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division. “We never call to demand that money be loaded immediately onto prepaid cards. U.S. government agencies do not call to demand immediate payments to avoid deportation or to avoid arrest.”

The indictment, which was issued by a federal grand jury last week in Houston, charges the defendants – which include five call centers in India – with crimes including wire fraud, money laundering and false impersonation of an officer of the United States. Authorities served warrants in cities around the U.S. on Thursday and were seeking the extradition of defendants in India, Caldwell said.

In a separate but similar call-center scam, authorities in India said earlier this month that they’d arrested 70 people and were questioning hundreds more.

The Justice Department said it’s not clear that the victims will get any of their money back, or that the defendants arrested cannot be easily replaced.