Policemen come out of one of the closed call centers in Mira-Bhayander, on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, Oct. 6, 2016.
Policemen come out of one of the closed call centers in Mira-Bhayander, on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, Oct. 6, 2016.

NEW DELHI - In India, police say they have unearthed a massive scam that involved bogus call center workers in Mumbai masquerading as U.S. tax officials and duping American citizens of millions of dollars. Police believe there is a possibility of similar frauds targeting other countries. 

Authorities have arrested 70 people on suspicion of tricking American citizens following a series of raids on Tuesday night by about 200 policemen at three nondescript premises in Thane, a Mumbai suburb.  

Thane police commissioner Parambir Singh explained the method allegedly used by the 700 odd workers at the so-called call centers, which apparently functioned round-the-clock.  He said they would call up people and pretend to be officials from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. government body responsible for collecting taxes. 

“The people are told they owe taxes, they are threatened and told that if they don’t pay up, police will reach their doorstep in half an hour and arrest them,” said Singh.   

Police believe they netted as much as $150,000 a day. They say the victims, who were asked to buy prepaid cash cards, made online payments amounting to $500 to $3,000.  

Officials say those involved at the Indian end of the operation got to keep more than two thirds of the money collected, while the rest went to their U.S. collaborators. 

India is a major hub of back office operations for hundreds of Western companies using local, English-speaking employees to either answer customer queries or process credit card payments and utility bills. The employees are usually trained to use the accents of the countries where the customers are. 

Police say the employees at the fake call centers underwent training to speak with an American accent. 

Authorities believe the scale of the latest scam is the biggest of its kind so far. 

“What we estimate is that $36.5 million has been stolen from American citizens,” said Singh.  It is not clear whether that figure refers to the fraud by the Mumbai call centers alone.

In the U.S., the IRS has been warning people about tax phone fraud involving phone calls claiming that they owe back taxes and threatening jail.  

Indian police say they will share the information with U.S. authorities, but did not say whether they had collaborated with them during the operation.  

Police believe the scam unearthed in Mumbai spreads wider and there is a possibility that people in Britain and Australia may also have been similarly conned.