Tax scam 'kingpin' arrested in India after netting over $300 million

MUMBAI, April 8 (Reuters) - Indian police said on Saturday they had arrested the suspected mastermind behind a call center scam run out of a Mumbai suburb that targeted thousands of Americans and netted more than $300 million.

Sagar Thakkar, 24, also known as Shaggy, was arrested at Mumbai's international airport in the early hours of Saturday after he flew in from Dubai, Mukund Hatote, a police officer on the case, told Reuters.

In October, the U.S. Justice Department charged more than 60 people in India and the United States with participating in the huge scam where call center agents impersonated Internal Revenue Service, immigration or other federal officials and demanded payments for non-existent debts.

The department said at least 15,000 people had been targeted by the telefraud that was run out of India.

The scam - which ran for more than a year - was blown open in early October, when Indian police raided a host of call centers in the Mumbai suburb of Thane and detained over 700 people suspected of involvement in defrauding Americans. Other call centers involved in the scam that operated from the western city of Ahmedabad were also raided and shut down by authorities.

RELATED: How much Americans pay in taxes in every state

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Best and worst states for retirement
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Best and worst states for retirement

1. Florida 

You knew it had to be high on the list, didn't you? In terms of affordability, Florida topped the list while it placed fifth in terms of quality of life, overcoming its 20th-ranked healthcare rating.

2. Colorado

Ranked second in healthcare while quality of life came in 8th place, Colorado is constrained by its 23rd-place ranking in affordability.

3. South Dakota

The home of Mount Rushmore is the second most affordable state and ranked sixth when it came to healthcare, but can't break the top half in quality of life (ranked 32nd).

4. Iowa

Not typically thought of as a retirement destination, Iowa has decent rankings across the board (9th in healthcare, 11th in quality of life and 26th in affordability).​​​​​​​

5. Virginia

Quality of life ranks well in Virginia (9th) while affordability and healthcare rankings are above average (18th and 21st respectively).

The next five desirable retirement states are, in order:

Wyoming

New Hampshire

Idaho

Utah

Arizona

46. Arkansas

Dead last in quality of life and 45th in healthcare, Arkansas is pulled up by its 20th-place showing in affordability.​​​​​​​

47. Mississippi

The same principle applies to Mississippi, but even more so. The state is 49th in quality of life and last in healthcare, but it ranks 10th in affordability.

48. Rhode Island

Healthcare is above average (22nd), but quality of life and affordability are poor at 46th and 48th place, respectively.

49. New Jersey

The least affordable state in the union also has below average rankings in quality of life (28th) and healthcare (33rd).​​​​​​​

50. Kentucky

Kentucky ranks 47th in both quality of life and healthcare and only 38th in affordability, earning the Bluegrass State WalletHub's least desirable retirement state ranking for 2018.​​​​​​​

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At a news conference on Saturday evening, Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said Thakkar, who was charged in December along with others, had fled to Dubai in October following the raids and that he had also spent some time in Thailand over the last six months.

Thakkar, wearing blue jeans and a checked shirt, was presented to media on the sidelines of the press conference, but his face was covered with a black cloth.

Singh said he had interrogated Thakkar and was "impressed with his knowledge of the U.S. and Indian system." Singh said Thakkar had confessed to his involvement in the scam.

Singh said Thane police have so far charged 400 people in the case, and about a dozen of them are in custody.

SEE ALSO: How to protect yourself financially if your partner cheats

Thakkar was listed as a call center operator and payment processor in the U.S. Department of Justice indictment that charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.

According to the indictment, call center operators threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties.

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 indictment said.

U.S. and Indian authorities have been working together on the investigation. The United States had said it would be seeking the extradition of the alleged scamsters based in India.

Indian police have previously said that Thakkar led a lavish lifestyle, frequenting five-star hotels and driving around in expensive cars.

RELATED: 11 ways to reduce next year's tax bill

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11 ways to reduce next year's tax bill
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11 ways to reduce next year's tax bill

1. Contribute to a 401K or IRA

Contributing to a retirement fund is an important way to ensure financial independence in your golden years, but it can also convey short-term tax benefits. In most cases, the contributions you make to your 401K and IRA plans are tax-deductible and are not included in your taxable income at the end of the year. (Note: If you didn’t contribute to an IRA in 2016, you still have time. You have until April 18 to contribute up to the maximum amount and shave off a good chunk of your tax bill. Filed your taxes already? That’s OK. You can file an amended return to reflect the contribution.)

2. Buy a Home

There’s a distinct tax benefit to home ownership. The interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible, and the interest is front-loaded. For the first several years, most of your mortgage payment goes toward interest, which will drastically reduce your adjusted gross income at tax time. Want an extra boost for your taxes next year? Consider paying January 2018’s mortgage payment in December to get a tax benefit before the end of the year.

3. Donate to Charity or Volunteer

You probably know charitable donations can be itemized and deducted from your income, so you’ll want to save receipts anytime you donate cash or items to charity. You can even deduct miles you travel for volunteering or other charity work.

“Miles you travel on behalf of a charity are deductible at 14 cents per mile for 2017,” said Gail Rosen, CPA.

4. Start a Home Business

Starting a home business can provide you with a new source of income and allow you to take deductions off any income the business generates.

These deductions include business costs you incur throughout the year, a portion of your mortgage and utilities if you use a home office and the cost of goods needed to keep your business running. You can even deduct startup costs.

“Any expenses that are incurred before the first sale are ‘start-up costs,’” Rosen said. “These costs cannot be deducted until the first sale. Then they are deducted over 15 years and you can deduct the first $5,000 in the first year.”

5. Search for a New Job

If you hunt for a new job in your field this year, you can write off some qualifying expenses as you search. There are exceptions, but potential write-offs include things like clothes or travel.

“If you looked for a new job in 2017, you should be aware of the income tax deduction that may be available with respect to job-search costs,” Rosen said. “Qualifying expenses are deductible even if they do not result in a new job being offered or accepted.”

6. Open a Flexible Spending Plan

Many employers offer flexible spending plans that let you contribute toward yearly medical expenses pre-tax. These contributions typically don’t count toward your taxable income.

7. Deduct Medical or Dental Expenses

Many medical and dental expenses are tax-deductible. According to Rosen, the cost of getting to and from medical treatment is deductible at 17 cents per mile, plus the cost of tolls and parking, and dependent expenses are also deductible.

“If you cover the medical cost of dependents, these can be deducted. Additionally, if you are covering the costs of an individual who would qualify as your dependent except that they have too much gross income — for example, an elderly parent — you may be able to deduct these costs as well,” said Rosen.

8. Education-Related Expenses

Current and former students have many eligible deductions and credits related to their education expenses. Paid student loan interest and tuition and fees can be claimed as deductions. Eligible current students can also access the American Opportunity Credit, which can cover up to $2,500 annually for four years, and the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cover up to $2,000 per tax return.

9. Install Solar Energy

Homeowners who install solar energy systems in their home can get back tax credits at up to 30% of the cost of installation. This credit will begin to decrease after 2019 so you may want to act soon if you’re planning on installing solar panels.

As an added bonus, solar energy can significantly reduce your energy bills.

10. Hunt Down Every Available Tax Credit

We’ve named several tax credits above, but there are more, including credits for adopting children, the cost of child care and low-income households. Tax credits are more valuable than deductions, as they reduce your taxable income on a dollar-for-dollar basis, so make sure you’re taking advantage of every option.

11. Get a Pro to Do Your Taxes

No matter how much research you do, a professional may be able to identify tax deductions and credits that hadn’t occurred to you. Paying a reputable professional you trust can help you stay organized and minimize your tax liability. Here’s a handy guide to finding the right tax professional for your needs.

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