U.S. charging 61 people in frightening call center scam based in India

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It can be a frightening call to get.

Callers posing as tax and immigration agents are threatening arrest, deportation or other punishment unless money is sent to help clear up what they say is a deportation warrant or to cover unpaid income taxes.

The government says it's a scam — one that's tricked at least 15,000 people into shelling out more than $300 million.

Now the Justice Department is announcing charges in connection with a call center operation that officials say is based in India.

Federal prosecutors have unsealed an indictment charging 61 defendants in the United States and abroad, including five call center groups.

The department says the extorted funds ended up being laundered with the help of prepaid debit cards.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell says authorities served nine warrants in eight states and arrested 20 people in the international fraud and money laundering scheme investigation. The case includes five call center groups.

Caldwell says the scam targeted the elderly and minorities, and extorted thousands of dollars from victims at a time. She says the money was laundered with the help of prepaid debit cards.

Arrests are taking place throughout the United States.