NEW YORK — Four men of Indian descent, including Indian Americans, have been charged in a $3.5 million fraud scheme in which they allegedly posed as tax officials and then threatened and collected money from over 7,300 people, a federal prosecutor has announced.
Wisconsin Eastern District prosecutor Gregory J. Haanstad Nov. 30 said the scheme was "likely originating from India."
Moin Gohil, 22, was picked up by law enforcement authorities in Georgia Nov. 24, and Pratik Patel, 26; Parvez Jiwani, 39; and Nakul Chetiwal, 27, were arrested Nov. 28 by federal authorities, Haanstad said.
According to the prosecutor, their fraud is known as an "IRS impersonation scheme."
Participants in the scheme, which is based "likely in India," call victims in the U.S., pretend to be officials from the federal tax agency – the Internal Revenue Service – and typically claim the victims owe taxes.
They then threaten and intimidate the victims, saying they will face arrest or legal action if they do not send money through services like MoneyGram and Western Union, or provide gift cards with cash value.
Members based in the U.S. – known as "runners" – use fake identification to collect the money and cards.
Haanstad said that Gohil, Chetiwal and Jiwani, all allegedly "runners," retrieved $666,537 sent from 784 victims between Jan. 25, 2016 and Aug. 8, 2017.
In addition, the fakes IDs they used are linked to 6,530 other fraudulent transactions totaling $2.83 million, he added.
Patel "aided and abetted" at least one of the runners, he said.
They have been charged with three offenses – wire fraud, which is using electronic communication to commit fraud, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting crimes.
If found guilty, they could face a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine for each crime.
Frauds like these are widespread and the perpetrators have tarnished the reputation of India and Indians.
In November, U.S. authorities busted an Ahmedabad-based operation that had defrauded U.S. residents of at least $25 million.
Five men who were arrested in the U.S. have admitted their guilt in federal courts in Texas and Arizona and are awaiting sentencing.
In that case, 53 people in India were also charged. The alleged mastermind of the call center used in the operation, Sagar "Shaggy" Thakkar, was arrested in Mumbai in April.