The Internal Revenue Service has long warned taxpayers not to be lured in by aggressive callers who phone cold and claim to be IRS agents seeking to collect outstanding taxes.
On Monday, the agency got some help from Justice Department prosecutors who—working with inspectors general at the Treasury and Homeland Security departments—secured guilty pleas from five call-center scammers based in India or the United States.
The guilty pleas to money laundering and conspiracy made before a Texas district judge during the period of May 26 to June 6 involved Rajubhai Patel, 32, an Indian national most recently residing in Willowbrook, Ill.; Viraj Patel, 33, an Indian national most recently residing in Anaheim, Calif; Dilipkumar Ambal Patel, 53, an Indian national most recently residing in Corona, Calif.; and Fahad Ali, 25, a Pakistani national and permanent U.S. resident most recently residing in Dyer, Ind. Additionally, Hardik Patel, 31, an Indian national most recently residing in Arlington Heights, Ill., pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy. Sentences are pending.
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Four other members of the conspiracy operation pleaded guilty in April and May.
According to admissions made with the plea agreements, the five men and co-conspirators beginning in September 2013 ran a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The scheme was a ruse designed to defraud American victims using information obtained from data brokers and other sources. Call center operators threatened victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay sums allegedly owed the government.
“Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money,” Justice said in a release. “Upon payment, the call centers would immediately” use email or text messaging or the WhatsApp encrypted software to tap a network of “runners” based in the United States to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds. They would also exploit the victims’ personally identifiable information.
The investigation results were announced by acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco of Justice’s Criminal Division, acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas and Executive Associate Director Peter Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. They cooperated with Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Inspector General J. Russell George and Homeland Security IG John Roth.
The Federal Communications Commission, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Small Business Administration and Interpol helped crack the case. Local law enforcement in Texas and Illinois were also instrumental, along with U.S. attorneys in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Nevada and New Jersey.
Justice recommended that others who believe they are victims of such scams contact the Federal Trade Commission using its website.