An Indian national has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a call center scam that tricked Americans out of millions of dollars by impersonating federal officials, the Department of Justice announced in a statement on Monday.
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Hitesh Madhubhai Patel, who goes by Hitesh Hinglaj, of Ahmedabad, India and his co-conspirators operated an India-based scheme that scammed victims in the US out of millions between 2013 and 2016.
According to the statement, Patel’s employees “impersonated officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams designed to defraud victims throughout the United States.”
During the scam calls, perpetrators impersonating government employees would threaten the victims with arrest, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged amounts of money owed to the government.
“Those who fell victim were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of ‘runners’ based in the United States to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds,” the Department of Justice said.
Patel was sentenced in Texas on charges of “wire fraud conspiracy and general conspiracy to commit identification fraud, access device fraud, money laundering, and impersonation of a federal officer or employee.”
The Indian national as well as 60 others were indicted in 2016, with 24 defendants who were based in the US being sentenced to 20 years in prison. At the time Patel was based in India and, according to one co-defendant cited by the Ministry of Justice, managed to pay a bribe to secure his release in the country. However, in 2019 he was extradited to the US from Singapore, where he had flown, and subsequently prosecuted.
The Department of Justice also said Patel has been ordered to pay $8.9 million to identified victims.
#IRS will NEVER demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Also, we don't call out of the blue about an unexpected refund. Here’s how to handle these scammers: https://t.co/xZNKwFNxDY #IRSTaxTip— IRStaxsecurity (@IRStaxsecurity) November 23, 2020
The IRS has issued many warnings over the years not to fall victims to these scams, adding that individuals would never be required to make payments over the phone.
“IRS collection employees may call or come to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt. They will not demand that you make an immediate payment to a source other than the US Treasury,” advised the IRS on its website.