Federal prosecutors this week unsealed an indictment that charged 56 people in a widespread, international scheme in which the suspects pretended to be IRS agents and immigration authorities to steal more than $300 million from victims to clear phony tax debts and fictitious deportation warrants.
The scam, which used several telephone call centers in India, relied on phone numbers and other personal data that they got from data brokers. They targeted more than 15,000 victims with threats of jail time, fines and deportations if they did not pay the fees.
In thousands of fraud cases where the victims agreed to send money, the money allegedly was laundered through groups of conspirators in the US with debit cards and wire transfers. Some reportedly had the victims purchase iPhone cards and wire the money electronically to US bank accounts.
Twenty of the 24 suspects in the US have been put under arrest. At least 32 suspects live overseas. The court also documented federal charges against five call centers in India.
According to Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, this is an international problem and it shows that modern criminals are able to target Americans for financial fraud schemes both based in the US and overseas.
The co-conspirators, according to federal charging documents, used ‘hawala transfers’, where funds are transferred outside of the official banking system, and the extorted funds were then sent to accounts belonging to people based in the US.
The indictment stated that the alleged criminals kept a percentage of the illegal funds for taking the transfer.
One of the most common ways that large criminal operations are charged by federal authorities is conspiracy. Conspiracy is a large number of crimes where more than one person is working with others secretly to commit a federal crime. By definition, if you are involved in a conspiracy, it is criminal in nature.
State and federal conspiracy laws are intended to discourage people from participating in crimes that have more than one person involved. A conspiracy does not have to be big or widespread; two people can be a conspiracy.
Federal laws recognize conspiracies where the intended crime is a felony, and where the intended crime is a misdemeanor. Given the amounts of money involved in the IRS scheme, these conspiracy charges are felonies.
About Wire Fraud
While the IRS story did not explicitly mention wire fraud, these alleged crimes would have been committed through the use of telecommunications equipment to engage in intentional deception to rob people of their money and/or property. Federal laws for wire fraud are defined under 18 USC 1343 and are related but distinct from mail fraud and telemarketing fraud.
Wire fraud virtually always crosses state lines, so is almost always prosecuted by federal authorities. Federal wire fraud laws also have special sections for any type of wire fraud that is related to a natural emergency or disaster.
The punishment for wire fraud will vary based upon the aggravating factors in the case. Generally, wire fraud can involve a prison sentence of up to 20 years. There also are substantial fines and restitution required under wire fraud laws.
San Diego Elderly Woman Swindled
One of the alleged victims was an 85 year old woman in San Diego who allegedly had $12,300 stolen from her when she was threatened with arrest if she did not settle the fake tax debt. On the very same day the payment was sent, a suspect in Frisco TX allegedly loaded a debit card in the same amount to buy money orders.
Another victim in California lost $136,000 to alleged criminals who pretended to be IRS agents. They demanded payment for phony tax charges. The suspects contacted the victim several times over three weeks. That money then was allegedly sent to several debit cards.
Scam Calls Reportedly Have Decreased
Since the arrest of the 56 individuals and the closing of the bogus call centers in India, the number of Americans getting these calls has decreased. According to the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau, the international bust has greatly reduced the number of bogus calls.
The BBB stated that that particular branch is getting far fewer complaints about the bogus IRS calls. The BBB noted that this IRS scam was one of the largest scams that it had been tracking this year.
Earlier in 2016, the scam had so much steam that one out of four calls that the BBB got across the US were related to the IRS scam. But those calls have dropped off this month by 95%.
One news report stated that some of the call centers were based in Mumbai, India, and there were more than 700 people employed there. That apparently was the origin of many of the calls.