Last summer, two Indian teenagers decided to call Betsy Broder, an international fraud tracker at the Federal Trade Commission, to share details of an IRS phone scam operation targeting Americans.
In the details of the case shared by the New York Times, it turns out the United States government had been tracking this elaborate scheme since 2013. During this period, the scammers conned Americans out of $100 million – many of the victims were recent immigrants.
The two teenage informants were active part of the large scam operations at a call-center when they decided to make that phone call to Ms. Broder.
As one said, “It started out as fun, then it got boring, then we truly understood the good and dirty parts of the job. Then we decided to bring it down.”
While this particular scam has been brought down through an investigation, scams like this are relentless. “If you shut down 400 buildings in India, it will not stop,” added one of the informants.
Enabled by new technologies, India has become a major center for fraud operations targeting Americans.
A large pool of underemployed, young, computer-savvy English speakers, a “vast” call-center culture, modern technology and “ingenuity” all contribute to the talent for fraud in the country.
Offered perk and financial rewards they could not obtain at a normal job and bypassing any moral concerns, many money-minded teenagers join call center scam operations without a second thought.
In one such operation, when the young future-scammers went to their first training session, they were given American names and a six-page script that began:
“My name is Shawn Anderson, with the department of legal affairs with the United States Treasury Department…”
Inaben Desai, a resident of Texas, unwittingly transferred $17,786 – nearly her entire savings – to scammers in India posing as U.S. government officials.
They told her the lie that she didn’t pay all her fees when she became a citizen in 1995, and that if she didn’t pay up, she would be deported back to India.
When she told them she needed to call her husband, they told her not to and that “there’s going to be more problems” if he was involved.
The scammer on the phone instructed her to go to her bank and send personal information. She recalls the bank teller trying to stop her; “This is your personal information,” the lady said.
But it was fear that propelled Desai to make that fateful transaction.
This is the key psychological tactic scammers use. Fear.
Discussing Americans, one scam artist observed, “I think they actually are really afraid of their government.” He said all you need to tell Americans is “‘You are messing with the federal government,’ and that is all.”
Scammers will also instruct the gullible to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of iTunes so they can “avoid prosecution.” Then the fear-induced victims send the fraudsters the code and, just like that, they have access to that money.
In total, the IRS impersonation scam has resulted in a more than $36 million taxpayer loss.
Soon after the informants mentioned in the New York Times article left their first call-center operation, they were presented with endless opportunities to scam Americans in other ways from India. The Viagra scam, the tech scam, the American Express scam…each represented an elaborate and different type of phone scheme targeting Americans.
This suggests that average Americans need to be extremely weary of any calls coming from a “government official” as well as anyone else they don’t know personally. The variation of phone scams one can encounter these days is almost endless. To get more information on unknown phone numbers, you can also try doing a white pages reverse phone lookup.
Our blog has a lot of information about how to avoid getting entangled in a phone scam. Here are a few posts you should read now: