In the busting of a major scam, 21 Indian-origin people were convicted and sentenced up to 20 years in prison in the United States, for looting millions of dollars in an India-based call centre scam.
The scam involved Indian call centres using a number of telephone fraud schemes to loot vulnerable sections such as the elderly and legal immigrants in the US.
The sentences awarded to the 21 people range from four to 20 years.
The harshest sentence of two decades was given to Illinois-based Miteshkumar Patel. He was charged with laundering between $9.5 million to $25 million using his network of runners in Chicago, who would help liquidate and launder the ill-gotten money through anonymous stored value cards.
Hardik Patel, another Illinois-based conspirator was sentenced to imprisonment of 15 years and eight months for owning and managing one of the call centres involved in the fraud.
82-year-old Raman Patel from Arizona was the oldest person to be convicted in the case. He was awarded a probationary sentence and fined a little over $76,000.
The youngest person sentenced in the scam was 26-year-old New Jersey resident Nisarg Patel, who will spend 48 months in prison. The judge also recommended that he be deported to India after completing his sentence.
Calling it âthe first-ever large-scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call centre scam industryâ, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, âThis case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimisation of the most vulnerable members of the US public.â
Apart from these 21 people, 32 India-based people have also been charged but have yet to be prosecuted.
The modus operandi
Between 2012 and 2016, the convicts operated a complex money laundering operation where individuals would pretend to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Citizenship and Immigration Services officials, and call Americans from their base in Ahmedabad.
They would use information received from data brokers and other means, and the conspirators would threaten their American victims with arrest, imprisonment and deportation, if they did not pay the money they âowedâ to the âgovernmentâ.
After the gullible victims made the payment, fooled into thinking that they had indeed received calls from US government officials, the call centres would employ a network of runners based in the US to liquidate the funds. This money was then laundered by means of reloadable cards or wire transfers.
Usually, the runners would purchase these stored value reloadable cards and share its unique card number with the people in India. These cards were then registered using misappropriated personal identification of US citizens. The extorted money was then loaded on to these cards. Finally, the runners would utilise these cards by purchasing money orders and depositing the amount into the bank account of another person.
This modus operandi, incidentally, was similar to another India-based scam which was busted in 2016 for possibly targeting Canadians. Fifty-six people and five companies running call centres in India were charged for swindling $300 million from US and Canadian citizens.
This scam too originated from Ahmedabad and the criminals would pose as government officials threatening unsuspecting people with dire consequences, if they did not cough up the money they allegedly owed to the government.