After a brief lull following the indictment of five Ahmedabad call centres for extorting money from US citizens by impersonating Internal Revenue Service officials, con call centers apparently restarted operations. This time, the scamsters are posing as officials of US intelligence agencies, and are scaring their targets with the threat of legal action, saying that blood and traces of drugs such as cocaine had been found in their cars.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) special attache in India, Shoeb Dawood, had rushed to Ahmedabad to gain insights into the recent arrests by Ahmedabad police’s cyber cell, to understand the new modus operandi of the scamsters. Police commissioner A K Singh confirmed this development. “FBI attache Shoeb Dawood has been provided with a call list and sensitive personal data of US citizens retrieved from the call centre computers.”
Cyber cells officials said the scammers used a special software to make about 2,000 calls a day. “The callers would pose as intelligence officials and would threaten US citizens with legal cases for cocaine possession, say that blood stains were found in their cars. The more naive of the targets would pay the scamsters through iTune payment cards .” About 5% of those who got calls fell prey to the con and transferred money to the scamsters.
Senior police sources added that a team of IT students from Gujarat Technological University (GTU) had helped retrieve the data. As of June 6, 2018, the US-based Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) had information that illicit callers were demanding payment for purported outstanding tax debt not only via iTunes cards but also using Google Play Gift Cards. The scammers would also request payment using Green Dot, MoneyPak, and Reloadit prepaid cards, and other prepaid cards.
Elaborating on the scam, Michael E McKenney, DIG Audit TIGTA, filed a report before the US House of Representatives in September 2018. It states that in May 2015, the IRS had discovered that criminals used taxpayers’ personal identification information obtained from sources outside the IRS to impersonate the taxpayers and gain unauthorized access to tax information through its Get Transcript application. In March 2017, the IRS estimated that approximately 100,000 taxpayers were affected by the data breach. The IRS immediately shut down its Data Retrieval Tool when it discovered that identity thieves were using individuals’ personal information that they had obtained from outside the tax system.