In what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions describes as the “the culmination of the first-ever large- scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry,” multiple defendants and their co-conspirators recently pleaded guilty to a fraud and money laundering scheme in which they impersonated officials from the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services intended to rip off victims in the U.S.
The recent sentencing hearings took place in Houston, Texas, before Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Of the defendants, 28 received prison sentences of up to 20 years, two were put on probation, several were to be sent back to India upon completion of their sentences and 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers were charged with general, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
Also, 22 of the defendants were held liable for repaying almost $9 million to their victims, and Judge Hittner entered individual preliminary orders of forfeiture against 21 defendants for seized assets and money judgments of almost $73 million.
“This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimization of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public,” Sessions said in a prepared statement. “The transnational criminal ring of fraudsters and money launderers who conspired to bilk older Americans, legal immigrants and many others out of their life savings through their lies, threats and financial schemes must recognize that all resources at the Department’s disposal will be deployed to shut down these telefraud schemes, put those responsible in jail, and bring a measure of justice to the victims.”
In US v HGlobal Et al (case no. 4:16-cr-385s), the defendants and their conspirators worked through call centers in Ahmedabad, India to impersonate U.S. officials in a scam intended to defraud victims throughout the U.S.
They used information obtained from data brokers and other sources, and call center operators called U.S. taxpayers to threaten them with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they didn’t pay the alleged debt to the U.S. government.
Victims who did agree to pay used purchased and stored value cards or wired money. Once the payments were made, the call centers used U.S.-based runners to launder the funds quickly by buying reloadable cards or retrieving wire transfers.
A typical scenario included call centers directing runners to buy the stored value reloadable cards and send the unique card number to co-conspirators based in India. The co-conspirators then registered the cards using stolen personal identifying information of U.S. citizens, and loaded the cards with scam funds received from the victims.
The runners used the stored value cards to purchase money orders that they then deposited into the bank account of another person, and the runners would earn a specific fee or percentage of the funds. Runners also received victims’ money via wire transfers, which were retrieved by using fake names and false identification documents, direct bank deposits by victims, and Apple iTunes or other gift cards purchased by victims.
The indictments also named 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016, and charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false impersonation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering. One of the defendants was separately charged with passport fraud.
Taxpayers who believe they have been targeted in a fraud scam should contact the Tax Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov or call 800-366-4484. The IRS also offers fraud information here.
About Terry Sheridan
Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate, mortgage finance, health care, insurance, personal finance, and accounting and taxation issues for newspapers, magazines, and websites. A Chicago native and former South Florida resident, she now lives in New England.