Dozens Sentenced for Call Centre Scam Where Victims Bought iTunes Gift Cards Under Threat of Arrest

By Sidney Fussell on at

Dozens of defendants were sentenced to prison on a wealth of fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy charges relating to a complex call centre scheme operating from India, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday. A ring of scammers operating both in India and the US coerced victims, the DoJ says, into transferring money to them either directly or by purchasing bank cards or iTunes gift cards, which scammers laundered into money orders. The scammers ultimately stole “hundreds of millions” of dollars, according to the agency.

In India, call centre employees posed as Internal Revenue Service and Immigration agents, telling victims, in particular the elderly, that they owed money and would be arrested for tax fraud if they didn’t transfer money. The callers also posed as officers with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and threatened deportation if victims didn’t pay.

The DOJ says the scammers used call scripts and target lists to find their victims. They were then instructed to either wire money or purchase preloaded gift cards and debit cards loaded with varying amounts of money untied to banks. “Runners,” low level scammers operating out of the US, used the bank cards to buy money orders that were then wired into fraudulent bank accounts.

The DOJ estimates thousands of people were targeted by the ring. The defendants face up to 20 years in prison, and some will face deportation after their sentences have ended. The DOJ has a site with updated information on the scam and urges anyone who may have been targeted to contact the US Federal Trade Commission. [Department of Justice]