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Indians: Financial Scam Artists

by Adeel Mukhtar

Adeel Mukhtar

Indian contributions for the betterment of the world have seen a manifold increase. Indians for last few years have assisted the financial experts all over the world especially the U.S., UK and Canada in a rather unique way. The financial and visa frauds/ cheating schemes planned and manifested by Indian diaspora has provided an excellent opportunity to experts in modifying and inventing new rules and policies. Indians have attained mastery to exploit loop holes in the policies, the student visa scams, duping millions of dollars through fake “Call Centres” in the U.S. and their latest presentation in Canada is ensnaring Canadians through fake tax network scam.

An Indian-origin couple has been arrested for allegedly running an overseas telephone scam in which crooks posing as tax officials duped people of nearly Rs 90.68 crore. They were arrested and charged with fraud and money-laundering, while an arrest warrant has been issued against their alleged partner Shantanu Manik, who is believed to be in India. As per Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigations, the fraudsters were targeting Canadians since 2014 by calling and identifying themselves as representatives from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or RCMP. The RCMP said between 2014 and 2019, Canadians lost over 16.8 million Canadian dollars (Rs 90.8 crore) to the scam. The RCMP investigation into the scam also uncovered money mules operating in Canada to launder huge sums to India.

Federal authorities termed the culprits as accomplices to an enormous global scam involving overseas Call Centres (operating from India), including the so-called CRA tax scam.  Scammers, commonly in India, impersonate officials from the Canada Revenue Agency and insist the recipient owes taxes and must pay immediately, or else face arrest or imprisonment. Additional phone-based and online scams including the SIN scam, the tech support scam and the bank investigators scam involving Indian citizens have also targeted Canadians. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said it received nearly 20,000 reports about such calls in 2019, with more than 5,500 people falling victim in 2019.

Federal authorities lead ‘Project Octavia’, a special task force formed in 2018 to investigate the widespread Indian scams. Its investigations identified the location of major criminal enterprise in Mumbai behind the harassing calls. Canadian officials said they discovered 39 Call Centres in New Delhi and Noida area and informed Indian police. Canadian people termed Indian scammers as, ‘They’re nothing but financial terrorists’. 74,000 Canadians have complained about the CRA phone scam. More than $16 million dollars have been stolen, making it one of the largest cyber scams in Canadian history.

In 2018, Canadian authorities identified the location of one major criminal enterprise behind the harassing calls. It operated from an apartment complex in Mumbai, India, making calls every weekday to phone numbers in Canada. In addition to the dozen investigators tracking leads in Canada, an RCMP officer posted in India has coordinated work with top Indian authorities. The result, in less than a year, has been 39 raids against scam centres in India and 45 arrests.

The results of the new, multinational effort have been primarily witnessed in India, epicenter of the illegal call centre industry. But investigators say they are also following leads in Canada, going so far as to identify individuals they believe are directly connected to the scam, perhaps as “money mules” responsible for moving funds obtained from victims back to India. In 2018, $6.4 million was reported as having been stolen from Canadians through the CRA scam. So far in 2019, $1.5 million has been reported officially. The criminals also made millions of dollars through spoofing scams. Indians have made tens of millions of dollars by using programs to spoof legitimate local numbers or even numbers belonging to government organizations, thus committing a federal crime apart from cheating and fraud.

A Canadian federal force is also working in concert with its partners in the ‘Five Eyes’, an intelligence-sharing network that includes Canada, the U.S, U.K, Australia and New Zealand (countries worst hit by Indian’s scams). Further technical assistance has come from Microsoft, which operates a large cybercrime laboratory at a high-security facility in Washington State. It is widely believed that Five Eyes was established especially to counter Indian financial frauds. The Indians operate in countries of interest having base in India. A massive call centre scam is under inquiry in US, the amount and magnitude of the fraud is many times more than Canadian scam. The information may be shared with all concerned. An international media campaign is recommended to expose India and dual international standards to handle money laundering crimes. It is also recommended that own tentacles keep a close watch on activities of Indian diaspora especially in West and Middle East.