US charging 61 people in IRS phone scams

A police official, right, escorts two men outside the court in Thane, outskirts of Mumbai, India, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Indian police have arrested 70 people and are questioning hundreds more after uncovering a massive scam to cheat thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars by posing as U.S. tax authorities and demanding unpaid taxes. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

WASHINGTON (WHTM) – The Justice Department has unsealed an indictment charging 61 people for their alleged involvement in IRS and other scams that tricked tens of thousands of Americans out of more than $300 million.

Twenty people were arrested Thursday in the United States and 32 people and five call centers in India were charged. Another defendant in the U.S. was in the custody of immigration authorities.

The indictment alleges the defendants were involved in a sophisticated scheme organized by conspirators and a network of call centers in India. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators called potential victims while impersonating officials from the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Authorities say the call center operators then threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.

If the victims agreed to pay, the call centers would turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers.

One of the call centers extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, California after threatening her with arrest if she did not pay fictitious tax violations. The defendants also extorted $136,000 from a victim in Hayward, California, who they called multiple times over a period of 20 days, authorities said.

Police reported several cases in central Pennsylvania. In the past year, a Lancaster County man lost $3,000, a Perry County woman was scammed out of more than $5,000, and an Adams County woman sent $9,000; all after getting calls from people posing as IRS agents and demanding payment through iTunes gift cards.

In May, a Cumberland County woman was scammed out of $2,300, and police said she would have lost $1,700 more if Target employees hadn’t stopped her from buying more iTunes cards.

The Justice Department said the arrests will bring a sense of justice to victims and help increase fraud awareness.

The IRS has issued repeated warnings, telling people it never makes phone calls to demand immediate payment. The agency also says it will never call about taxes owed without first mailing a bill or require a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card.

Additionally, IRS agents do not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, and they do not threaten to bring in police to have someone arrested for not paying.

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