SAN DIEGO–The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has taken down a transnational criminal organization that scammed victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars, including a local woman who was the victim in a “grandma scam’ two years ago.
The Justice Department arrested 56 defendants last week in connection with their involvement in a transnational criminal organization that victimized tens of thousands of people in the U.S.
The federal indictments involve 20 defendants, who were arrested in the U.S., along with 32 others and five call centers in India. The defendants used information obtained from data brokers and other sources. Call center operators would contact potential victims and impersonate officials from the IRS or Immigration. They would threaten potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.
If the victims agreed to pay, the call centers used a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers. One of those co-conspirators operated in Southern California, and targeted elderly victims in San Diego.
“Scam artists operating outside the U.S. aren’t easy to catch,” DA Bonnie Dumanis said. “But times are changing and these latest arrests are proof that law enforcement isn’t going to let the scammers get away with it. Our DA investigators along with our Elder Abuse Unit played a vital role in hunting down and dismantling this web of thieves.”
One of the San Diego victims, 86-year-old Beth Baker, fell victim to this international ring of scam artists two years ago. Instead of the IRS scam, the fraudsters used the well-known ‘grandma scam.’ She received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the U.S. Embassy in Peru. The caller said her grandson had been arrested in connection with a car accident and he needed bail money.
He told her to purchase pre-paid money cards – Green Dot cards – and to provide him with the numbers on the card, essentially transferring the money to him.
Within one week, Ms. Baker had given the scammer more than $65,000, depleting her savings account. When she went to her bank to try to get a loan to send even more money, a banker realized Ms. Baker was being scammed and alerted her son, Jim.
District Attorney Investigators in the DA’s Elder Abuse Unit have been investigating Ms. Baker’s case for nearly two years. Through numerous bank search warrants and analysis of records, Investigator Paul Holman traced Ms. Baker’s money through the system, which led to the identification of an Indian national living in Corona, Calif., as a person who had laundered much of the money stolen from Ms. Baker.
Investigator Holman, along with DA Investigator Barbara Shakowski, coordinated his investigation with the Department of Homeland Security and eventually Dilip-kuma Patel was identified as a significant money launderer for the Transnational Criminal Organization operating phone scams from a call center in India.
A search of Patel’s home turned up a bank of documents, computers and cell phones, indicating he laundered more than $4.2 million dollars for the Indian-based crime network in just one year. He was one of the people indicted by the Department of Justice last week.
“I want to commend our District Attorney Investigators, especially Mr. Holman, for their excellent work and outstanding coordination with federal authorities,” DA Dumanis said. “They followed the money and were determined to stop the criminals who were targeting elderly victims in San Diego.”
In addition to Ms. Baker, another victim in her 80s in San Diego was scammed out of more than $12,000. The DA believes there are likely many other local victims. Their investigation followed Ms. Baker’s money as it was laundered through a spider web of dozens of co-conspirators across the U.S, and eventually to foreign countries including India and Iran.