On Oct. 27, the U.S. Department of Justice charged 61 people with taking part in an expansive call center scam. Call center workers, impersonating either IRS or immigration agents, attempted to solicit payment from thousands of U.S. citizens. The scam, in operation since at least 2013, has targeted around 15,000 people, who have lost more than $300 million.
“A grand jury in federal court in the Southern District of Texas returned an indictment in the case on Oct. 19,” according to an article in the Washington Post. “The charges against those involved include conspiracy to commit identity theft, impersonation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.”
Justice Department officials said that the defendants ran at least five call center groups overseas. Leslie Caldwell, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said she hoped the efforts of U.S. and Indian authorities would weaken the efforts of the scamming market.
Despite this claim, these cases are widespread and occur too frequently. In a separate case, police in Mumbai raided a call center and detained 770 employees for questioning. Recently, the Justice Department said that it was focused on a network of call centers in Ahmedabad and that some of the centers’ owners have been charged.
Posing as officials with the IRS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the call center workers told unsuspecting victims that they failed to pay taxes or that they possibly face deportation, unless they paid the scammers thousands of dollars. According to the Justice Department, extorted funds were laundered through wire transfers or prepaid cards registered with someone else’s information.
The scammers were not easily identifiable either. They used information about their victims acquired from the internet and social media to seem like a real agency. The numbers that they called from looked like they came from a legitimate U.S. agency.
There is no denying that the callers are at fault and justly deserve to be arrested. They committed a crime and should serve whatever punishment is just for their misdeeds. The authorities, including the IRS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are doing the best they can to handle this phone scamming situation.
It is important to note that all information about avoiding and recognizing phone and internet scams is on their respective websites. Given this, it is the public’s job to educate itself with the highly accessible information that is at its disposal. Self-education is a necessary and critical step to prevent this from happening in the future.