US Justice Department to Probe Five Call Centres, 32 Individuals in India Involved in Cyber Fraud

The call centre members allegedly targeted thousands of individuals in the US through phone based scams.

The US government has identified five call centres and 32 individuals in India in connection with cyber fraud and a US Department of Justice (DOJ) team is expected to soon arrive in the country to investigate the matter.

The government of India has already received a report from the DOJ in connection with the matter. The minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir stated that according to a report received from the DOJ, 20 individuals were arrested in the US on October 27, while five call centres and 32 individuals were identified in India for their alleged involvement in cyber fraud.

Although the minister claimed that he was not aware of the composition of the US team or the date of its visit, he said the DOJ was indeed contemplating sending a team to India.

The proposed visit is in connection with a probe against members of a “transnational criminal organisation” who allegedly targeted tens of thousands of people in the US through phone-based scams while impersonating as officials from the Internal Revenue Service and the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services and made off with hundreds of millions of dollars.

In October, the federal authorities in the US had filed an indictment against 61 people who had been arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit identity theft, impersonation of an officer of the US, wire fraud and money laundering and 20 of them had been arrested on October 27.

The prosecution’s case was that the accused would call up the victims and demand payment through debit cards or wire transfers and threatened those who resisted with arrest, deportation or heavy fines. Many, like Suresh M. of Hayward, California who paid $136,000, were duped in this manner, the prosecution said.

The DOJ officials will visit India because earlier in October, a large number of people associated with similar scams were arrested from nine locations in Mumbai.

On October 6, a raid was carried out in three call centres in Mira Road and more than 750 employees were questioned for alleged online fraud. It was alleged that these centres were being used as a front for cheating loan defaulters in the US. Posing as US revenue department officials, the call centre employees would ask the loan defaulters for their bank details, which they then used to hack into their accounts and dupe them of their money.

The Mumbai police had stated that similar call centres were earlier raided in Ahmedabad as well. It was also revealed that the accused used a special software to mask the number from which they made their calls and the receiver would see a US number on their phones.

While agents in the US earned 30% on every trap, the call centres made 70%.

The probe against one of the call centre owners Jagdish Kanani revealed that he had been to the US three or four times in the last three years. He lured unemployed youth into the racket by offering them lucrative pay packages and trained them to speak in American accents. The police identified his partners as Brijesh and Dhruvil.

Responding to the development, cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said this would probably be the first time that a DOJ team would visit the country to investigate a case. In the past, people from the DOJ have visited India but only to attend a conference or to meet people. Hence, we will have to look at the role and scope of such a visit and the fact that the team is coming shows that India and the US are headed towards closer cooperation.

Duggal said that it was “extremely important to tackle cyber crime on a bilateral basis because internet has made geography history. So different cyber criminals often want to hide behind territorial boundaries of nations and target other countries thinking they will not be caught. There is one international treaty on cyber crime being the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, but India is not a signatory to it. So consequently India is not a signatory of any treaty on cyber crime.”

In such a scenario, he said, “it becomes all the more essential that India must have bilateral arrangements with other countries to deal with issues pertaining exchange of information concerning cyber crimes and cyber criminals. Right now there is only the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) but it is a long process and it takes a lot of time. So at present, an agency like Central Bureau of Investigation would take more than three years to get information under MLAT. Therefore, we need to do expeditious exchange of information. In this context, this approach of mutual assistance looks very important and relevant.”

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