|Indian call centres used for $5m debt-collection scam|
|Thursday, 23 February 2012 06:30|
WASHINGTON: US authorities have cracked down on a new scam in which so-called phantom debt collectors using call centres in India harassed Americans into paying bills running into millions of dollars. One scheme, which has bilked US consumers out of some $5 million so far, involved about eight million phone calls originating in India to American consumers over an eight-month period, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Tuesday.
A US district court judge in Chicago ordered a Villa Park, California operation to cease and froze the assets of American Credit Crunchers, an affiliated company called Ebeeze and their owner, Varang K. Thaker, according to Chicago Tribune. FTC alleged Thaker obtained information - often including Social Security or bank account numbers - about consumers who had inquired about or applied for online payday loans. Thaker used callers in India, who often posed as law enforcement officers or other government officials, to threaten people with arrest, a lawsuit or the loss of their job if they didn't repay online payday loans. Scammers, officials said, demanded payments of about $500, but as high as $2,000. Some consumers complied even when they knew they didn't owe money, just to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation or potential arrest, authorities said. So far, the FTC has received thousands of complaints from across the country about the scam.
"We think we have a really serious problem," said C. Steven Baker, director of the FTC's Midwest Region, based in Chicago. "As economies have globalised, so has fraud." "Nobody actually owed them a dime," Baker said. Phone calls were placed using Internet-based phone calling, which made the calls appear to caller-ID systems as if they were coming from within the US, he said. The scam had been ongoing since at least January 2010, officials said. The FTC has set up an informational Web page for consumers, called "Who's Calling? That Debt Collector Could be a Fake".