61 charged with scamming 15,000 victims through fake IRS calls

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The U.S. Justice Department charged 61 people and entities on Thursday with taking part in a scam involving India-based call centers where agents impersonated Internal Revenue Service, immigration and other federal officials and demanded payments for nonexistent debts.

The scam, which had operated since 2013, targeted at least 15,000 people who lost more than $300 million. Twenty people were arrested in the United States on Thursday, while 32 individuals and five call centers in India have been charged, the department said in a statement.

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The defendants, including 24 people across nine U.S. states, were indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

See photos of the arrests:

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IRS scam arrest in India
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Employees coming out of Delta IT Park building after police inquiry as police personnel arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money. Over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road for allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Employees coming out of Delta IT Park building after police inquiry as police personnel arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money. Over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road for allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money, over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel arrest the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money. Over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road for allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel carrying in hard drives computer and laptops after arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money, over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel carrying in hard drives computer and laptops after arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money, over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money, over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5: Police personnel arrested the accused employees for allegedly threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money, over 500 call centre employees were detained at Mira Road allegedly cheating and robbing US citizens, on October 5, 2016 in Mumbai, India. According to the investigating team, the victims in the US were threatened with a 'tax investigation' by Mira Road call centre executives impersonating as American Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officials. (Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
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U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said at a news conference that the United States will be seeking the extradition of those based in India and warned others engaged in similar schemes.

"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 Sates and could sit in jail ... for several years," she said.

According to the indictment, the operators of the call centers in Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat, "threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government."

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Payments by victims were laundered by a U.S. network of co-conspirators using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, often using stolen or fake identities, the statement said.

The call centers also ran scams in which victims were offered short-term loans or grants on condition of providing good-faith deposits or payment of a processing fee, it said.

The investigation involved Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Treasury, Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service and police officials, the Justice Department said.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Additional reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

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