70 arrested as Indian call center dupes Americans in tax scam

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Hundreds are being questioned by Indian police in connection with a massive fraud ring that may have duped Americans out of tens of millions of dollars over the course of a single year.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that police in India had raided a series of call centers and arrested at least 70 people on charges of extortion, impersonation and information technology crimes, according to The Associated Press.

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​​​​​Employees at the call center are believed to have sent out thousands of calls and messages each day, posing as U.S. tax collectors and threatening to involve American authorities if they weren't promptly paid.

"In one case, one of the victims shelled out $60,000 just to escape a so-called raid on his house by taxmen," Param Bir Singh, police commissioner of Thane, India, told the country's Economic Times, noting that the amount stolen was "mind-boggling" and that the current investigation "could be the tip of the iceberg."

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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)
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)
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)
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)
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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It's believed that the call centers collectively netted as much as $150,000 each day by scamming Americans wary of the taxman. Call operators are said to have been willing to settle for amounts as small as $500 and as large as several thousand dollars.

Indian media outlets have reported that a call center employee may have alerted local authorities to the scam.

"The accused had spoofed the toll number of [the Internal Revenue Service]. So when the victim received a call, [call identification for the IRS] would flash on their phone," Singh told The Indian Express.

At least some victims were also reportedly told to buy specific gift cards – allowing them to transfer funds through card identification numbers rather than direct payments. Singh indicated that more than 600 people are being questioned by local police and that more arrests could follow the initial 70.

Local police raided office buildings near the Indian city of Mumbai late Tuesday night, reportedly seizing hundreds of hard disks, servers and other pieces of equipment. Singh has said that Indian police departments have been contacted by and are cooperating with U.S. authorities looking into the scam.

Indian investigators have said that at least some portion of the earnings brought in by the scam – thought to be around 30 percent – was funneled to co-conspirators within the U.S.

"Taxpayers across the nation face a deluge of these aggressive phone scams," John Koskinen, the commissioner at the IRS, said in a statement published earlier this year in which his agency estimates more than 5,000 people have been tricked out of $26.5 million since October 2013 as a result of similar scams. "We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you're not hearing from us."

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