The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 61 people and entities with conspiracy and fraud over a scam that involved phone calls from people pretending to be from the IRS or other government agencies.
The conspiracy defrauded at least 15,000 people of more than $300 million, the U.S. government says. The defendants — 56 people and five call center groups — were indicted last week, and the documents were unsealed on Thursday.
The Justice Department alleges that the conspiracy included several call centers in Ahmedabad, India, and that call center operators would dial numbers in the U.S. and impersonate an IRS or immigration official.
The operator would threaten potential victims, the government alleges, and if the operator found someone who believed the call was real, co-conspirators would work to extract money from the victim.
"One 85-year-old California woman was threatened over nonexistent tax violations," NPR's Carrie Johnson reports. "Prosecutors say she turned over $12,000 to the scammers."
As a reminder, if you get a call from someone who claims to be from the IRS, it's fake. The IRS will always send letters as the first way to contact a taxpayer. An IRS agent threatening immediate jail time if you don't pay up immediately is also a sure sign of a scam.
There are more details on how to recognize this kind of scam at the IRS website.
The conspiracy that led to the recent indictments was "a sophisticated fraudulent scheme" originating in India but including some two dozen U.S.-based conspirators, the Department of Justice alleges. It involved the hawala system for informal international cash transfers, and relied on several people who did not realize the money being transferred was derived from a scam.
Charges in the case include conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering, the Justice Department says.
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