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Gujarat call centres in debt collection fraud

By Lalit K Jha
February 23, 2012 14:14 IST
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A call centre's workers in Gujarat posed as United States law enforcement officials and made nearly 8.5 million threatening calls in just eight months to consumers in America, US federal authorities have claimed.

Based on payment documents and the VOIP address of these calls, Federal Trade Commission has determined that the call center was run by one Zeus Inc Private Ltd, which has its address at A-308 Wall Street-2, B'H Jungle Bhook Restaurant, Gujarat College Road, Ellisbridge, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

In a complaint, the FTC has alleged that American consumers received over 20 million of collection calls from India, and that since January 2010 the operation took in more than $5 million from victims, with collectors demanding between $300 and $ 2,000 per call.

Armed with apparently stolen personal information -- social security number, date of birth, bank details and even the place of work -- these callers threatened US consumers with dire consequences and even have them arrested if the consumers did not pay their loan, which they never owned.

Ahmedabad-residents Nirav H Raichur and Parag B Chaudhari are listed as the two directors of Zeus.

US authorities are seeking assistance from Indian agencies in its investigation on this case. "This is the first FTC case alleging that threatening calls were made to US consumers from call centers in India," a FTC spokesman said.

The FTC has submitted testimonies of a large number of American victims for this first of its kind fake debt collectors calls being made from India to US consumers.

While the matter is being probed, FTC's Midwest regional office Director Steve Baker, when asked if the Indian call center knew that they were doing illegal thing, said that to the extent that the individual caller takers were calling people that they are from US law enforcement agencies.

Acording to FTC, in just eight months more than 8.5 million calls were made to the US from this call center in Ahmedabad. This included nearly 160,000 to phone numbers with area codes in the Northern District of Illinois.

The records provide specific information about each call, including the telephone number to which it was made, the date, time and duration of the call, and the IP address where the call originated. It also include calls to consumers who have complained to the FTC about threatening debt collection calls as well as calls to one of the FTC's consumer declarants.

Although the IP addresses indicate that the calls originate in India (most frequently Ahmedabad, Gujarat), consumers' caller ID does not reveal that location.

Consumers report their caller ID displaying domestic or blocked phone numbers, it said.

In its complaint, FTC said these calls were made on behalf of American Credit Crunchers, related company Ebeeze LLC and their owner Varang Thaker.

"We are aware of the defendants in this case making payment to one Indian company in Ahmedabad from where these phone calls originate based on VOIP address. Records  indicate that payments were made to a company called Zeus Ink Pvt Ltd," the FTC official said.

Varang K Thaker, an Indian national living in the US as permanent resident, claims he has been trapped.

"I am cooperating with FTC. I have nothing to do with it. You please talk to my attorney. It's somebody else who has done this (scam). I am also a victim," Thaker told PTI.

"I can't give you any answers right now. I have just taken up this case yesterday. I am not up to speed," Saquib Zuberi, attorney for Thaker, told PTI.   "My believe is that my client is a victim. He was victimised by somebody or company or an individual in India.

We plan on assisting all agencies involved to find the main culprit of who this activity is," the attorney said.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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