Mumbai: A call center is a place or rather a centralized office which is used for receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. But what if one such call centre is producing talents but getting misused? What about some fraudulent practices going on in the name of a call centre?
Such a shocking incident has taken place at a call centre in Mumbai. 2 Indian teenagers working at a high-rise building in Mumbai called Betsy Broder, who tracks international fraud at the Federal Trade Commission. The boys told her told her, in tones that were alternately earnest and melodramatic, that they wanted to share the details of a sprawling criminal operation targeting Americans. Ms. Broder, who was no stranger to whistle-blowers, pressed the young men for details.
“He said his name was Adam,” she said, referring to one of the pair. “I said: ‘Your name is not Adam. What does your grandmother call you?’ He said, ‘Babu.’”
Babu was Jayesh Dubey, a skinny 19-year-old with hair gelled into vertical bristles, a little like a chimney brush. He told her that he was working in a seven-story building and that everyone there was engaged in the same activity: impersonating Internal Revenue Service officials and threatening Americans, demanding immediate payment to cover back taxes.
If they reached a person who was sufficiently terrified or gullible — this was known in the business as a “sale” — they would instruct that person to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of iTunes cards to avoid prosecution, they said; the most rattled among them complied. The victim would then send the codes from the iTunes cards to the swindlers, giving them access to the money on the card.
As it happened, the United States government had been tracking this India-based scheme since 2013, a period during which Americans, many of them recent immigrants, have lost $100 million to it.
Though India ha ad no reputation as a large-scale exporter of fraud in the past, it is now seen as a major center for fraud, said Suhel Daud, an F.B.I. agent who serves as assistant legal attache at the embassy in New Delhi. Several trends have converged to make this happen, he said: a demographic bulge of computer-savvy, young, English-speaking job seekers; a vast call-center culture; super-efficient technology; and what can only be described as ingenuity. “They have figured all of this out,” Mr. Daud said. “Put all of these together, with the Indian demographics in the U.S., and it’s a natural segue. Whatever money you’re making, you can easily make 10 times as much.”
Pawan Poojary and Jayesh Dubey, best friends and college dropouts, were impressed with the Phoenix 007 call center in Thane, a suburb northeast of Mumbai. The interviewer carried an iPhone; there were racing sport bikes parked outside, and, as Mr. Poojary put it, “girls roaming here and there.” The monthly salary was average for call centers, 16,000 rupees, they said, but the bonuses were double or triple that, based on sales.
The two friends had been playing a video game for up to eight hours a day, pausing occasionally to eat. They wanted in.
“At that time, in my mind is that I want money,” Mr. Poojary, 18, said. “That’s it. I want money. That’s why.”
They said they showed up for training in a room of young Indians like themselves, the first in their family to be educated in English. They were a slice of aspirational India: Mr. Poojary’s father, who owned two welding shops, was adamant that his son would rise to a higher place in society, an office job. Mr. Poojary was afraid to tell him he had dropped out of college.
The trainer assigned them names, Paul Edward and Adam Williams, and handed out a six-page script that started out, “My name is Shawn Anderson, with the department of legal affairs with the United States Treasury Department,” the teenagers said.
“We read the script, and I asked, ‘Is this a scam?’” Mr. Poojary said. “He said, ‘Yes.’”
“At that time I am money-minded. I thought, ‘O.K., I can do this,’” he said.
Mr. Poojary was excited and nervous about speaking to an American for the first time, and he was alarmed by the resulting bursts of profanity. Mr. Dubey said he tried to commit the entire experience to memory, in case he and Mr. Poojary someday decided to start a business of their own.
“I just wanted to become a great scammer,” Mr. Dubey said. “Everyone was scamming around me. I thought, ‘I will also become a great scammer.’”
The key to the whole thing, Mr. Dubey decided, was a psychological fact: Americans fear their state.
“I think they actually are really afraid of their government,” he said. “In India, people are not afraid of police. If anyone wants to come and arrest, they say, ‘Come and arrest.’ It is easy to get out of anything. But in America they are afraid. We just need to tell them, ‘You are messing with the federal government,’ and that is all.”