Twenty-one people involved in a massive fraud and money laundering conspiracy were sentenced to up to 20 years in jail, the Department of Justice announced Friday, joining three other conspirators sentenced earlier this year. The operation, based out of call centers in India, targeted U.S. residents in telephone scams where they posed as representatives from the IRS. During the four years the operation was active, more than 15,000 U.S. residents were scammed out of hundreds of millions of dollars and more than 50,000 people had their personal information misused, the New York Times reports.
In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it the “first-ever large scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry.” The Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Treasury Department worked for years to shut down this fraud ring.
Between 2012 and 2016, the sentenced individuals used information obtained from data brokers and other sources to scam vulnerable populations, including immigrants and elderly persons. With a caller I.D. of “U.S. Government,” conspirators posed as IRS or immigration officials over the phone, threatening arrest, deportation, or other penalties if the U.S. residents didn’t immediately pay them through prepaid cards or money wire transfers.
If the victim agreed to pay their alleged debts, the money was routed through the call centers to a network of runners located in the U.S. The runners would then “liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing reloadable cards or retrieving wire transfers,” the DOJ reports.
To help taxpayers avoid similar scams, the IRS provides a fact sheet explaining they will never call demanding immediate payment. Tax payments are always requested through mail, and taxpayers are given the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed. The IRS said it will never threaten to have you arrested.
“The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status,” according to the fact sheet. “Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.”
The 21 individuals sentenced in a Houston court last week were located throughout the U.S. during the scheme. The Times reports they resided in Illinois, Arizona, Florida, California, Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey, and Texas.
Twenty-two of the defendants have been held jointly liable for restitution payments over $8.9 million to victims of the scam, the DOJ reports. The court also included money judgements over $72.9 million in last week’s sentences.
The court has also indicted 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers with “general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy,” but no arraignments have taken place.