It took a three-year investigation, but law enforcement officials finally caught up with a group of IRS call center scammers. If you ever received one of these calls, you know how maddening, threatening and frightening they could be if you believed, and people did.
More than 15,000 people fell victim and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to an indictment brought by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Texas that named 61 people in an alleged scheme that operated in India and the United States. FBI agents, working with agents from the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, arrested 20 people in the United States and 32 in India at five call centers. Immigration officials have another man in custody in Florida.
The indictment describes an elaborate scam organized in India with a network of call centers in Ahmedabad. It details how the creepy callers used information from data brokers and others to find potential victims and impersonate IRS agents or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agents.
Call center operators threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government,
And here’s where it got really bad.
When victims agreed to pay, the call centers would turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to launder the extorted funds quickly by purchasing prepaid debit cards or using wire transfers.
The U.S. Attorney said, “…prepaid debit cards were often registered using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and the wire transfers were directed by the criminal associates using fake names and fraudulent identifications. “
Scammers used “hawalas,” in which money is transferred internationally outside of the formal banking system, to direct the extorted funds to accounts belonging to U.S.-based individuals. According to the indictment, these individuals were expecting the hawala transfers but did not know how their partners got the money. The co-conspirators also allegedly kept a percentage of the proceeds for themselves.
Who Fell For the IRS Scam
The indictment says an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, California, paid $12,300 after scammers threatened her with arrest if she did not pay fictitious tax violations.
A man in Hayward, California, shelled out $136,000 after scammers called him many times over a 20-day period. They told him he owed the IRS money and demanded that he pay. He followed their instructions and bought 276 stored value cards. The scammers transferred the money to reloadable debit cards. They purchased some of those cards using the stolen IDs of Americans.
In some cases, scammers offered short-term loans or grants. They asked for deposits to show “good-faith” that people would make payments. And then, of course, the people who paid never received any money.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said,“This indictment will serve to not only seek the conviction of those involved, but will send a message around the world that no one is safe from prosecution for participating in such pervasive transnational fraud schemes.”
Did You Fall For The IRS Caller Scam?
If you became a victim of one of these scams, the Department of Justice wants to hear from you. It asks that you contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint and get yourself listed.