61 indictments allege scams against 15,000 seniors and others

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Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell (Photo: U.S. Justice Department)
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell (Photo: U.S. Justice Department)

Fifty-six individuals and five call centers have been charged for allegedly scamming more than 15,000 seniors and others in the United States out of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Justice Department and several additional government agencies announced Thursday.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said the announcement is the “first-ever multi-jurisdiction enforcement action targeting the India call center scam industry.”

The indictment, returned Oct. 19 by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and unsealed on Thursday, charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering. One of the defendants separately is charged with passport fraud.

In connection with the alleged scheme, 20 people were arrested on Thursday in the United States, and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is being held by immigration authorities.

The indictment alleges that the defendants were part of a scheme organized by conspirators in India, including a network of call centers where operators reportedly impersonated officials from the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“For nearly four years, this criminal network used a variety of schemes to trick frightened individuals over the telephone by tapping into their worst fears — arrest, deportation and other problems with U.S. government authorities,” Caldwell said at a press conference. “Once a victim was hooked, the call centers relied on a network of U.S.-based associates to cash out and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible,” she added. Funds were laundered through debit cards and MoneyGram and Western Union wire transfers, Caldwell said.

According to the indictment, for instance, an 85-year-old resident of San Diego lost $12,300, and another California resident lost $136,000, by settling what they were told were tax violations. Additionally, more than 50,000 individuals' identities were misappropriated over the years, according to the document.

“We want to get the word out that if you get one of these calls, it is not the U.S. government on the other end of the line,” Caldwell said. “Even if your caller ID says ‘US Government' or ‘IRS,' or some other government agency, it is a scam. The U.S. government does not operate in this manner. U.S. government agencies never call to demand that money be loaded onto prepaid cards. U.S. government agencies do not call and demand money to avoid immediate arrest or deportation. If you receive a call like this, do not pay any money. Instead, please report it to authorities.”

The Department of Justice has established a website to provide more information about the case. Anyone who believes he or she may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission online. Additional information about telefraud scams, preventing identity theft and fraudulent use of identity information is available on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging also maintains a fraud hotline, 855-303-9470 or www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.

According to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the committee's chairwoman, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), ranking member, the hotline received more than 1,100 calls from seniors across the country in 2015, and the most common complaint continues to involve people impersonating IRS officials.

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