Remarks as prepared for delivery
Today we are here to announce the first-ever multi-jurisdiction enforcement action targeting the India call center scam industry. More than 15,000 victims, including new immigrants to this country and the elderly, were targeted by a complex fraud scheme involving a network of call centers originating in India. This transnational criminal ring targeted victims in the United States, impersonating IRS, Immigration, police and other government officials, and demanded immediate payments to avoid deportation, arrest warrants or to cover allegedly unpaid income taxes. In the process, these criminals took in hundreds of millions in criminal proceeds.
The victims included people all over the United States, mainly vulnerable victims such as immigrants and the elderly. For example, one 85-year-old California woman was extorted by individuals impersonating IRS employees, who threatened her with arrest unless she paid $12,000 for nonexistent tax violations.
In another example, the defendants called the same California man multiple times over a 20-day period, demanding payment for alleged tax violations. They succeeded in extorting that victim out of $136,000.
Other victims were scammed out of thousands of dollars—sometimes tens of thousands at a time—by criminals who purported to be immigration agents and who threatened to deport them within 24 hours unless they paid up.
This morning, the Department of Justice; the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General took action to shut down this massive scheme. Federal and state law enforcement arrested 20 individuals and executed nine search warrants across eight states in a coordinated takedown.
The arrests today are based on an indictment brought in the Southern District of Texas that charges 61 entities and individuals, including five call center groups, located primarily in the United States and India, with an international fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
For nearly four years, this criminal network used a variety of schemes to trick frightened individuals over the telephone by tapping into their worst fears—arrest, deportation, and other problems with U.S. government authorities. Once a victim was hooked, the call centers relied on a network of U.S.-based associates to cash out and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible. This was done through a variety of prepaid debit cards, which were often registered by conspirators using personal identifying information of close to 50,000 U.S.-based identity theft victims, or through MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfers conducted with fake names and fraudulent identification.
The indictment we unsealed and the arrests we made today demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to identifying and prosecuting the individuals behind these impersonation and telefraud schemes, who seek to profit by exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. This is a transnational problem, and demonstrates that modern criminals target Americans both from inside our borders and from abroad. Only by working tirelessly to gather evidence, build cases and working closely with foreign law enforcement partners to ensure there are no safe havens can we effectively address these threats.
Most importantly—as you will hear in more detail from my colleagues on the stage today—we want to get the word out that if you get one of these calls, it is NOT the U.S. government on the other end of the line. Even if your caller ID says “US Government” or “IRS”, or some other government agency, it is a scam.
The U.S. government does not operate in this manner. U.S. government agencies never call to demand that money be loaded onto prepaid cards. U.S. government agencies do not call and demand money to avoid immediate arrest or deportation.
If you receive a call like this, do not pay any money. Instead, please report it to authorities. With today’s press conference, we want to spread the word to prevent future victims.
And now it is my pleasure to turn it over to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Kenneth Magidson.