Site of illegal call centers in Mumbai. Photo: Economic Times of India
A tele-scam initiated by a 23-year-old in Mumbai pulled in some $74,000,000 from Americans who believed his pitch that his ‘agents’, who staffed three call centers, were IRS agents set on collecting monies owned from the individuals called via VoIP (Voice Over Internet) protocols. The scheme continued for roughly year before it was reported to Indian authorities by a disgruntled employee, The Economic Times of India reported yesterday (Oct. 10).
The scam artist, Shahgar Thakkar, who sometimes went by the name Shaggy, is on the run, the Times’ website said.
Handsets dialled in the U.S. were supposed to show the calls came from +911 – but not all did. The half dozen or so of those calls I received showed random, usually not-in-service numbers around the U.S.
The ‘agents’ supposedly received extensive training in American accents, but the ones who left call-back messages from me sounded pretty Indian to me!
Victims were first asked for $10,000-$20,000, then when undoubtedly told nothing like that amount of money was available, the ‘agents’ agreed to settle the account for $5,000 or as little as $3,000, the website said.
The numbers called were bought by accomplices in the U.S. at a rate of roughly $1,500 for 10,000 names. The money scammed through the scheme was split among the U.S.-based participants in the ring, the calling ‘agents’, and, of course, Shaggy, who undoubtedly took care of the call center costs.
The ‘agents’, who were recruited through flyers and social media, were paid in cash – some as little as $2,200 a month (still a goodly sum to an uneducated Indian) or, if they were more talented and successful at what they were doing, they received as much as 4.5 times that amount.
Around 100 calls were made per day per agent – a relatively low number for a U.S.-based call center, where agents typically make 300 or more calls per day – and it was typical for 10-15 of the successful calls/callbacks resulted in money being wormed out of the victims.
The scheme was shut down recently when Mumbai police raided the illegal call centers.