US-CBI op blows lid off call centre fraud targeting elderly Americans

In a coordinated move involving the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) on Friday raided several locations in the six towns and cities where the call centres at the heart of the alleged “technical support fraud” were based.

Indian and US investigators working together have busted an alleged call centre racket that had targeted elderly Americans for nine years, the backend operations of which were handled by at least six private companies in Delhi, the NCR cities of Noida, Gurgaon, and Faridabad, Jaipur, and Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh.

Victims in the US would see false messages about a malware infection pop up on their computers, which would nudge them to a toll-free number. The users would be connected to call centres in India, where operators would request remote access to the computer to “fix the problem”. After a false diagnosis of a non-existent problem, the victims would be asked for “hundreds of dollars for unnecessary services and software”.

In a coordinated move involving the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) on Friday raided several locations in the six towns and cities where the call centres at the heart of the alleged “technical support fraud” were based. A federal court in the US had earlier issued a temporary restraining order against an American individual and five international entities that are believed to be linked to the fraud.

CBI officers said the companies under investigation include New Delhi-based Softwill Infotech Pvt Ltd; Noida-based Benovellient Technologies Pvt Ltd; Gurgaon-based Saburi Global Services Pvt Ltd; and Jaipur-based Innovana Thinklabs and Systweak Software.

The raids led to the recovery of digital evidence of fraud, incriminating documents, details of several bank accounts and fixed deposits worth Rs 190 crore, other than Rs 25 lakh in cash and gold worth Rs 55 lakh, CBI said in a statement.

According to the complaint filed by the DoJ’s Consumer Protection Branch and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, a 59-year-old California resident named Michael Brian Cotter “knowingly provided US support for India-based accomplices” who used to defraud elderly US citizens by making them believe that their computers had been infected by viruses or malware.

The five companies named by the DoJ include Singapore registered Global Digital Concierge, formerly known as Tech Live Connect; Nevada-registered Sensei Ventures Inc. and NE Labs Inc; New York-registered Kevisoft LLC, and United Kingdom-registered Kevisoft UK. Cotter, the DoJ said, used these companies to facilitate the fraud being perpetrated by call centres in India.

In 2018, 21 members of an India-based fraud and money laundering ring, who had posed as officers of the US tax task force, the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, were arrested and sent to jail.

The alleged kingpin, Illinois-based Mitesh Kumar Patel, was sentenced to 240 months in prison, followed by three years of “supervised release”; another accused in the fraud was sentenced to 188 months in prison. These men were the managers of a company that oversaw the day-to-day operations of a crew of “runners” that liquidated and laundered the fraud proceeds generated by call centres in India.

In 2016, the DoJ had uncovered another scam, in which as many as 15,000 victims were defrauded of sums between $12,000 to $136,000.

The massive Indian Business Process Management and Business Process Outsourcing industry has an estimated annual revenue of more than $28 billion. Industry body Nasscom did not respond to emails and calls seeking comments on the frauds by call centres based in India.

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