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Fake Call Centers in India Scam Americans Of Millions (ap.org) 212

An anonymous reader writes:Indian police have arrested 70 people and are questioning hundreds more after uncovering a massive scam to cheat thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars by posing as U.S. tax authorities and demanding unpaid taxes, a police officer said Thursday. According to police in Mumbai, the yearlong scam involved running fake call centers which sent voice mail messages telling U.S. nationals to call back because they owed back taxes. Those who called back and believed the threats would fork out thousands of dollars to "settle" their case, Mumbai police officer Parag Marere said Thursday. The scam brought in more than $150,000 a day, Marere said without giving a total sum. If the scam netted that amount daily, it would have made almost $55 million in one year. Some victims were also told to buy gift vouchers from various companies, and hand over the voucher ID numbers which the impostors then used to make purchases, Marere said. Police said they are likely to file charges against many of the 600 or more people still being questioned on suspicion of running the fake call centers, housed on several stories of a Mumbai office building.
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Fake Call Centers in India Scam Americans Of Millions

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  • by pteddy ( 4137621 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:03AM (#53031071)
    It showed up as an upstate New York phone number. In a thick Indian accent, "This is agent Steve Smith with IRS". I played along just to see how it went and they were trying to get me to go to Walmart and buy two pre-paid iTunes gift cards for $490 each and then tell them the numbers on each card. This was supposedly to pay my IRS debt. How does anyone fall for this? Later I amused myself by calling them back and then doing a three way call and calling the number again and listening to the two scammers try and figure out what each other was talking about.
    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:40AM (#53031305)

      I get these calls alll the time too. Most people may not know that the IRS always uses mail for communications, but nobody should believe that the government would have you transfer funds using a money laundering service like Green Dot. In my state, Green Dot is used only for meth deals or for paying ransoms.

      • by mlts ( 1038732 )

        In my state (Texas), they pretty much killed Green Dot because they have a layer of registration to be used. Now, the bad guys wind up using store cards or iTunes cards.

    • I got one of those calls also... I told them I already knew they weren't with the irs and asked them if they did the microsoft techsupport scam also.

      • Yes. Yes. And your computer has virus, too!

        • I keep a listed landline as part of a 16yr old custody agreement for my step-son... I get 3 or 4 calls a day that just say goodbye usually followed by a telemarketer call 15 to 20 minutes later.

        • I was amused when an ad on a website said my registry was hosed and they'd clean it up. I was on one of my Ubuntu machines at the time.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      In my experience, they usually call with a voice synthesizer. Yours must have been the ones too cheap to pay for something to cover their accent.
    • Agreed, all the IRS wants in MONEY, not gift cards.

    • by Scoth ( 879800 )

      I read an article that was admittedly about Spam scams, but I'd imagine the same would apply here. They're intentionally designed to be off-the-wall and unbelievable. That way, they know anyone they rope in is likely to be gullible enough to go all the way and fall for it without much problem. They don't want to try to make something super-believable that will cause smart or smart-enough people to question it and spend a bunch of time researching, because it wastes their time when they drop out.

      Unfortunatel

    • I won't pick up any unknown caller IDs and I let the answering machine deal with it. If it is a friend trying to reach me, they can leave a voicemail. For the past two months, an unknown number with same area code has been calling my home phone every day, at different times of the day - but never leaving a message. Same caller ID. Reverse phone lookup doesn't flag it as malicious (scam, telemarketer) but scammers have been notorious for caller ID spoofing. Scam artists do not care when you tell them th
    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      I got a bunch of them for about a week straight a few months ago. One time they called me and left a message saying they were from the IRS and I owed money and there was a warrant out for my arrest. They then called me back 10 minutes later stating they were from the Canadian IRS.....really can't believe people fall for this stuff.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        I got a bunch of them for about a week straight a few months ago. One time they called me and left a message saying they were from the IRS and I owed money and there was a warrant out for my arrest. They then called me back 10 minutes later stating they were from the Canadian IRS.....really can't believe people fall for this stuff.

        Nevermind the publicity. It's been plastered all over the TV about the tax agency scams (in Canada, it's the Canada Revenue Agency, or CRA that collects taxes), including intervie

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 07, 2016 @12:38PM (#53032265)

      Ha! They called me last year. The caller, John Smith (yes, really) had an obvious Indian accent. I told him that Kali was going to eat his children.

      He hung up and never called back.

  • I've had one recently that poses as my cellphone carrier threatening to cut off service unless they are paid immediately.
    • Me too! I always use my cell phone for everything, including Internet; I even have the slashdot app. But obvious scam is obvious, I wasn't about to fall for th
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:04AM (#53031079)

    I thought the real ones are much worse. Fake ones only take savings, The real ones take your income.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Exactly. Never talk to a debt collector or charity on the phone. Never take any bill that is mailed at face value. Always type the link of your financial institution of use a bookmark.

      In the US laws tend to protect the debtor. If you owe money, there will always be time to pay. Firms buy old debt without knowing if he debt is genuine. I get calls all the time trying to collect fake debt.

      • I did talk to a charity on the phone once. I was also Googling their name while talking, and the first hit on them was America's Ten Worst Charities. Amusing.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:09AM (#53031109) Homepage Journal

    When they tried to call Donald Trump to demand back taxes and he told them to fuck off.....

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Heh. I actually reported one of these to the appropriate two [ftc.gov] websites [treasury.gov] earlier this week, and when I read the headline I was like "well, that was fast" :-). Then I found another on my voicemail. So... apparently not the same ones. Well, maybe they are clearing the foreign competition away to allow domestic conmen to prosper under an anticipated Trump administration.

    • No, no, he bought them 78,359 Wal Mart gift certificates and 24,218 Itunes cards and a few hundred prepaid Visa cards. He paid his taxes after all!

    • When they tried to call Donald Trump to demand back taxes and he told them to fuck off.....

      I thought he'd have told them to enroll in online degrees from Trump U. That would have covered the cost of not just his, but the entire GOP campaign

  • by null etc. ( 524767 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:14AM (#53031141)

    It's a sad indictment of American intelligence that we have citizens who actually believe the government wants to be paid in iTunes gift cards.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:25AM (#53031213)

      For me, yes falling for that would be unconscionably stupid. For an elderly person, who only has a land-line and grew up when mail and checks were the only ways to pay for things? Who doesn't even grok what an "iTunes" gift card is, and has never had a need to figure that out? I could see them thinking this must be yet another newfangled way the IRS expects payment.

      Let's not succumb to the temptation to blame the victims.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        For me, yes falling for that would be unconscionably stupid. For an elderly person, who only has a land-line and grew up when mail and checks were the only ways to pay for things? Who doesn't even grok what an "iTunes" gift card is, and has never had a need to figure that out? I could see them thinking this must be yet another newfangled way the IRS expects payment.

        Let's not succumb to the temptation to blame the victims.

        I'm sorry, but anyone who's been alive long enough to pay taxes for decades to the IRS knows damn well they are are component of the US Government, who hardly dabbles in the "newfangled" or even moves fast enough to keep up with it.

        There are two teachers in life; wisdom and experience. Insulating society from the latter comes at a price for the rest of us.

        • by Copid ( 137416 )
          That works as long as you're one of the lucky seniors who remains sharp as a tack until your last dying breath. For most, there's a window when they're still in charge of their own finances but have moments when they're easily confused and forgetful. My grandmother is in her 90s and spent most of her life being one of the smartest people in any given room and was plenty cynical and suspicious about scams and criminals, but she's now reaching a point where she has days when she has no idea what bills she's
      • OTOH, how would someone who had barely even heard of "gift cards" pay a bill with one? Their very ignorance could save them from getting fleeced.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I doubt it is just the elderly. There is a reason America was targeted after all.

      • For an elderly person, who only has a land-line and grew up when mail and checks were the only ways to pay for things? Who doesn't even grok what an "iTunes" gift card is, and has never had a need to figure that out? I could see them thinking this must be yet another newfangled way the IRS expects payment.

        No, an elderly person who does not grok what an iTunes gift card is will not even know how to buy one. It is hard enough to get elderly people to pay by credit cards, let alone by anything newer. It is younger people who might regard iTune cards as currency, especially as cash is falling out of fashion among bright young things.

    • I can understand that it's easy for younger members of the /. community to snub their noses at such naivety, but I suspect it's more elderly people who may fall for this as they tend to be more trusting.

    • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
      Sadly it's not just Americans either. This started up in Canada a few months ago. The fact that people were getting duped was all over the news, and in some publicized cases they actually got a person to do it multiple times.

      Calgarian defrauded $20K in CRA scam involving iTunes gift cards [www.cbc.ca]
      iTunes twist on phone scam costing N.L. seniors thousands, warn police [www.cbc.ca]
      44 victims bilked out of more than $140,000 in June and July [www.cbc.ca]
      Listowel, Ont., woman paid CRA fraudsters with iTunes cards [www.cbc.ca]
      Canada Revenue Agency do [www.cbc.ca]
    • Because it's difficult and expensive. You pretty much have to do it with liberal arts. E.g. reading Shakespeare and the like. That's because it's the only subject simple enough to accommodate all levels of intelligence (within reason). Oh, and you can't teach critical thinking to somebody in their 60s with dementia. You can watch over them, but again, difficult and expensive.

      . It all comes down to 5 words: who's gonna pay for it?
    • It's a sad indictment of American intelligence that we have citizens who actually believe the government wants to be paid in iTunes gift cards.

      There are almost 300 million people in the US over the age of 14. And to steal a line from George Carlin, consider how dumb the average person is, and then realize that half the population is dumber than that.

      When you have a sample size that large, there are going to be some people who, if nothing else, came up short in the genetic lottery when it comes to intelligen

      • by gnunick ( 701343 )

        There are almost 300 million people in the US over the age of 14. And to steal a line from George Carlin, consider how dumb the average person is, and then realize that half the population is dumber than that.

        I've always thought that was a good joke, except that Carlin was conflating the ideas of "mean" (aka average) and "median".

    • It's a sad indictment of American intelligence that we have citizens who actually believe the government wants to be paid in iTunes gift cards.

      It says nothing of "American Intelligence." Just like spam from ten or more years ago, it says everything about the low barrier of entry of doing spray-and-pray tactics.

      It doesn't matter how few people fall for it because most of these are robocalls. You just need a few people to be available when the victims call back or press 1.

    • the iTunes cards should be a dead give-away of fraud. BUT --- I heard an interview with a woman who received TWO telephone calls at the same time - both working together (she had two phones, cell & landline). This scam was rather sophisticated.

      The first caller was the normal "IRS calling - you owe us money" The second caller (caller id was "911") "This is FBI coming to get you now - stay where you are" First caller - "pay us now and I will cancel the FBI agent." She went to Western Union to

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Has nothing to do ith Mericans. It happens everywhere.It is just that they speak better English (I know) than they do French, German, Spanish or any other language.

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      It's obvious. What does the government need with money? They print the money, they don't need any more of it.

      Apple, on the other hand, doesn't pay taxes, so getting an iTunes gift card is one way to recover those funds.

  • "Some victims were also told to buy gift vouchers from various companies, and hand over the voucher ID numbers which the impostors then used to make purchases..."

    Yeah, because the IRS usually tells people who owe back taxes to pay them back in gift vouchers. Yup, totally makes sense.

    I really don't know who I want to punish for this; those who capitalize on stupidity and ignorance, or those creating such a market.

    Any parent knows damn well at some point you had to let your kids learn the hard way, because no matter what wisdom you tried to impart, experience needed to be the teacher. Perhaps more of that tactic needs to be applied to society. Only way you're going

    • I really don't know who I want to punish for this; those who capitalize on stupidity and ignorance, or those creating such a market.

      Ever had a little old lady neighbor beginning to suffer from some flavor of dementia while still owning a phone? No? STFU.

      • I really don't know who I want to punish for this; those who capitalize on stupidity and ignorance, or those creating such a market.

        Ever had a little old lady neighbor beginning to suffer from some flavor of dementia while still owning a phone? No? STFU.

        Valid medical excuses play a part in this scam about as much as hyperactive glands play a part in the obesity epidemic, so you can stop trying to claim the minority represent the majority to dismiss the larger problem.

      • In my experience people who blame the victim of a crime are often either committing that crime themselves, or think that they may commit it (perhaps accidentally) in the future.

        • In my experience people who blame the victim of a crime are often either committing that crime themselves, or think that they may commit it (perhaps accidentally) in the future.

          In my experience, people who think that mentioning how often elderly people with dementia can be vulnerable to these kinds of scams is an example of blaming the victim as opposed to citing an example of how the GP's reference to wanting to punish the victims for their stupidity is misguided ... are not paying attention to the conversation. And that's being generous.

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      I really don't know who I want to punish for this; those who capitalize on stupidity and ignorance, or those creating such a market.

      I do.

      The word "con" is short for "confidence racket." It relies on you building confidence in your mark and then exploiting them. You exploit them by preying upon their own greed. Nigerian prince email scams are classic cons. They promise you something for nothing and you get suckered when you believe them ... and you believe them because you're not just stupid, but you're also greedy and corrupt. That's the origin of the phrase, "You can't con an honest man." An honest man would recognize that someone, som

  • I wonder if it gets included in our GDP figures.
    • Fortunately, you just export the result of stupidity, the stupidity stays perfectly sealed within the country.

      Thank $deity, I mean, who in their sane mind would import stupidity?

      And yes, I'm European, and yes, I will shut up here, it's not necessary to point out the very obvious in a comment to this one, I know, and I'm very pissed that we actually do just that right now.

  • by coolmoe2 ( 3414211 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @10:33AM (#53031275)
    When they only took your job not your grandmas savings.
  • From the description, it sounds like they setup real call centers to make the scam possible. A fake call center would be something that purports itself to handle calls, but in actuality, does not.

  • Indian media reports said 70 percent of the scam's proceeds were retained by the suspects in India, while the rest was paid to collaborators in the U.S.

    We need a simple rule for such cases:

    1. You will be asset stripped between the fines and restitution to the victims.
    2. You and your spouse will be blacklisted from government aid and charities funded by government aid (on penalty of imprisonment for the aid workers).
    3. If you commit any additional crime to rebuild what you lost, you will serve a bare minimum

    • Careful with #4. If it carries a lower penalty to hit your granny over the head for her purse than to swindle her out of money, granny wakes up with a headache.

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Aah we're always imprisoning people. It's like we're a one-trick pony.
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @11:10AM (#53031533)
    This says more about our insane tax code and US citizens' absolute, paralyzing fear of the IRS and its capricious life-wrecking ways than it does about the fact that there are such things as con men taking advantage of it.
    • Bah. Everybody hates their tax man (how come it's always a male, huh?). I seem to recall a Beatles song about this. I have some Swedish and German friends that will go on for hours if you let them.

      Welcome to Civilization. I suppose it was better when we were hunter - gatherers although starvation seems like a bad way to go out....

  • Tom Woods got one of these calls and decided to make an episode [tomwoods.com] out of it. It's either hilarious or pathetic, depending on your frame of mind. These particular scammers wanted to be paid in Target cards. It's instructive, from multiple perspectives, to listen to their (successful) technique.

    I heard an interview once with an Indian call center worker who was trained to treat Americans as if they were seven-year-old Indian children. I'm sure there are some /.'ers who can appreciate the way it feels to hav

    • Yeah the calls to my house began to accelerate last week - then suddenly stopped. It changed over the previous month from weekly recorded messages ("call us back") to daily real humans talking to me. One was an Australian bloke pretending to be an agent with the US Treasury dept.

      But my favorite conversation I told the guy "Look, you've been trying to pin this on me for years. You Can't Prove Anything - your evidence is weak. Come Get me.. Every heard of the 4th Amendment? I'm loading my shotgun right

      • I should also say that I screwed with the Treasury guy by asking
                    "You sure? Since when has the IRS been part of the Treasury? I don't believe you."

        That ended with an unsatisfying [click]

  • Just for fun try to run a 419 scam on them and see what happens. Also pretend to be hard of hearing and make it sound like they want to give you money. Etc.

  • Anybody that falls for this shit deserves the loss. How fucking dumb do you have to be no not only fall for such an obvious scam, but to go so far as to buy fucking gift cards to pay back the IRS!?

    I'm actually kind of surprised that these scammers don't sell off lists of phone numbers of all the morons that fall for this shit. Those lists could potentially go for as much as hacked password lists.
  • Every time some scammer calls you. Pretend you need to answer the door or something. Ask them to hold on and you will be right back. Put the phone down and leave it for 10 minutes while you watch tv. If you are not doing anything, play with them by pretending to be hard of hearing and ask them to repeat everything 3 times. Play dumb so they have to explain everything in minute detail. WASTE THEIR TIME. If they lost money on every call, they would stop doing it. Better yet, we need someone to write a program
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Friday October 07, 2016 @01:03PM (#53032507)

    This type scam has been going on for almost a year now, not all the scammers use the gift card route, some have used checks and cc numbers

    These indian scammers buy blocks of cell phone numbers from U.S. telecom companies, then buy another block when they're reported/investigated in the USA. We need laws to bring the hammer down on the U.S. companies that have been all too willing to continually resupply these scum with the cell numbers. Make them responsible for restitution of the victims.

  • Some victims were also told to buy gift vouchers from various companies,

    Damn! Now we're even outsourcing our IQ tests!

  • by Holi ( 250190 )
    You mean I'll stop getting those "This is IRS, you owe us, call us back or we sue" voice mails?

    Righteous
  • I suspect that most people smart enough to read slashdot already know this, but: The IRS will never make first contact via phone. They will make first contact by mail. That is paper mail. They will not use e-mail much less facebook, IM, or text.

    Unless you are already actively working with (or against) someone in the IRS regarding your case and are expecting contact through other means, you can be confident that any phone calls you receive are fraudulent.

    Also, and even more blatantly, the IRS will not take p

  • There are lots of versions of this and they target multiple western countries. I'm in the UK and had them claiming to be the HMRC, that I own Company and/or Personal Tax, British Telecom and Sky with outstanding bills, Google and Microsoft claiming I have virus. My brother living Australia has had them as well.

    They always use a Western Name yet have strong Indian accents, often so strong they cannot even be understood.

    I sometimes deliberately waste their time, sometimes I pretend to be impressed they have

  • Neither my wife nor I answer the phone if the Caller-ID isn't one we recognize, so I've just seen these things in the voicemail transcripts that get emailed to me, but they're relentless high-volume callers. Or (past-tense, I hope) were. The few I listened to did sound computer generated.

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