It was a win for the good guys last week after 770 call centre employees in India were detained, many arrested, after found to be operating a mass IRS telephone scam.
How the scam worked was pretty straightforward – the scammers in the Indian call centre would simply call victims, most reportedly living in the United States, claiming to be calling on behalf of the IRS. They would tell their victims that they had defaulted on their tax payments, and that the Inland Revenue was set to prosecute unless the victim handed over their bank account details.
From there, the scammers would empty the victims account, transferring the money to US bank accounts owned by this vast network of criminals.
Other versions of the same scam would involve instructing the victims to purchase pre-paid gift cards from stores like Target and Walmart, and send them to the scammers after loading them with money.
Like with many call centre scams like this, the “hit rate” (percentage of ‘successful’ calls) was probably quite low, since many potential victims would correctly identify the call as a scam. However since so many “employees” were calling from these call centres, making thousands of calls every day, it is estimated that the entire operation still managed to pull in around $150,000 each day.
Given that the operation was in place for around a year, that’s a lot of money.
Param Bir Singh, a police officer in Mumbai who led the raid, said of the scheme –
It looked like a regular office building and employed a lot of young people who spoke English and had a good knowledge of computers…
…It was a very sophisticated operation they were running.
It’s genuinely worrying that such a large operation can take place extorting money from victims at this scale. And it’s another reminder that we should always be sceptical of unexpected calls that demand us to carry out actions like making payments or messing around with out computers.
If you get an unexpected call like this, remain cautious and sceptical. Call-identifiers that show the incoming phone number can easily be spoofed, so don’t trust them. If you think a call is suspicious, hang up and call back (preferably on a different phone) the public phone number of the company or entity in question.
In this case, it would be getting the phone number for the IRS from their website.
Seventy have been charged with fraud, wrongful impersonation and violating the country’s Internet safety law. However police have said they expect more arrests, because believe it or not, like any other call centre, the scammers were recording their calls, giving police plenty of material to go over.
Further reading at The Washington Post.