U.S. busts massive India-based call centre scam that stole hundreds of millions

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U.S. authorities have sentenced 21 people in connection with an India-based call centre scam that bilked Americans of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Defendants were given sentences ranging from fines and probationary sentences to 20 years in prison, in what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called “the first-ever large-scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call centre scam industry.”

The scammers’ modus operandi was similar to that of the network of fraudsters who were arrested in Oct. 2016 in an operation that may have targeted Canadians.

READ MORE: 56 people charged in India-based call centre scam that may have targeted Canadians

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the sophisticated operation revolved around call centres in Ahmedabad, India, from where individuals called American citizens while posing as officials with Internal Revenue Services (IRS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCSIS).

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Victims were told that they owed the government money, and were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines and deportation if they didn’t pay up. Those who gave in to the scam were made to pay using wire transfers, direct bank deposits or iTunes and other gift cards.

Once payment was made, the call centres alerted a network of runners in the U.S., who worked to liquidate and launder the ill-gotten money.

READ MORE: Canadians lost over $95 million because of scams in 2017

“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,” said Attorney General Sessions.

“This type of fraud is sickening,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. “However, after years of investigation and incredible hard work by multiple agents and attorneys, these con artists are finally headed to prison. Their cruel tactics preyed on some very vulnerable people, thereby stealing millions from them.”

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The stiffest of the 21 sentences was reserved for Illinois man Miteshkumar Patel, who was given 20 years in prison. Authorities said Patel managed a Chicago-based crew of runners who worked to launder the call centre fraud proceeds using anonymous stored value cards. He was held responsible for the laundering of between $9.5 and $25 million.

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Another Illinois-based conspirator, Hardik Patel, was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison for his role as owner and manager of one of the call centres. Patel was reportedly in communication with notorious call centre scam kingpin Sagar “Shaggy” Thakar, who was arrested by Indian authorities in 2017, as reported by the Hindustan Times.

An Audi R8 car seized from Sagar Thakkar, alleged kingpin of an Indian call centre racket, seen in Mumbai, India, Oct. 28, 2016.
An Audi R8 car seized from Sagar Thakkar, alleged kingpin of an Indian call centre racket, seen in Mumbai, India, Oct. 28, 2016. Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The oldest person to be sentenced in connection with the scam was 82-year-old Raman Patel of Arizona, who was given a probationary sentence and a fine of just over $76,000. The youngest was 26-year-old New Jersey man Nisarg Patel, who was sentenced to serve 48 months in prison, with the judge recommending deportation to India upon his release.

The indictment also charged 32 Indian-based conspirators, who have yet to be arraigned.