Phantom Debt Collectors from India Harass Americans, Demand Money

Brian Ross et al., ABC News, June 7, 2012

Hundreds of thousands of cash-strapped Americans have been targeted by abusive debt collectors operating out of overseas call centers suspected of links to organized crime in India, law enforcement officials told ABC News.

The calls are part of a massive scam, one that appears to target struggling Americans—especially those who have gone online to apply for payday loans. Armed with personal information from those pilfered applications, the threatening callers, who claim to be debt collectors poised to initiate legal action, have managed to pry loose millions of dollars from their victims—even when the victims never owed money in the first place.

“This is what we call a phantom debt collection scam,” said Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “It’s a very pernicious and innovative new fraud.”

Working through call centers in India, the commission estimates that the criminals have dialed at least 2.5 million calls, persuading already cash-strapped victims to send them more than $5 million. Some have reported receiving dozens of calls per hour. They are victims like Cindy Gervais, of New Orleans, who went online for a quick loan when her husband’s car was hit by a driver who didn’t have insurance.

Even though she paid the loan off, the so-called “phantom” debt collectors with Indian accents began calling to say she still owed money.

“He more or less told me that if I didn’t pay, they were going to have someone on my doorstep to arrest me,” she told ABC News. “And that they were going to contact my place of business, and tell them what kind of person I am.”

At first, she said she resisted. Then the calls became more frequent, and started to ring on her cell phone, and at the grocery distribution company where she had worked for 27 years.

“I was more or less was in panic mode because he told me there would be someone before noon at my place of business to arrest me and take me to jail,” she said tearfully. “So I agreed to pay him.”

After receiving scores of complaints, investigators with the FTC said they began tracking the calls, and following the payments. They alleged the payments led them to a California company run by an Indian-American named Kirit Patel, and that such scams would not be possible without American front men.

“I would say that all roads of this scam, or many of the roads of this scam, lead back to Mr. Patel,” said the FTC’s Leibowitz.

ABC News tracked Patel for weeks, from the suburbs of San Francisco to Austin, Texas.

Patel refused to talk. But his lawyer, Mark Ellis, said he believes it is far too early to pass judgment on his client. Ellis, a Sacramento-based attorney, told ABC News that Patel was hired for a nominal fee to set up an American shell company, and had no idea what the call centers in India were doing.

{snip}

“If Mr. Patel was just a cog in the wheel he seems to have been a pretty big cog,” Leibowitz said. “It is clear that Patel was integrally involved with this scam.”

Leibowitz points to thousands of pages of financial and phone records gathered by the FTC and filed as part of a civil case brought against him in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento last month. {snip}

{snip}

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  • I am not surprized. I have heard of this case. These callers from India make their callers believe that they are going to take them to jail if they do not pay the debt that they are calling about.

  • The__Bobster

    The bad news: Indians are now the 3rd largest source of new migrants to Australia. The second largest group are Chinese.
    _________

    I bet Yuan Chinaman is dancing in the street at the news.

    Oh, and if a snake charmer tries to dun me for money using that funny accent, I’ll be laughing my ass off.

  • Sherman_McCoy

    Yeah.  Call ME, Apu.  I learned some choice insults in the Curry Den.

  • This story is ridiculous and untrue.  I know from TV and the Movies that all Indians are either hilarious side kicks, experienced and knowledgeable business men, or the preferred sexual partners of attractive New York brunettes everywhere!

    • I actually saw this story on TV news and the debtor had taped every call she had received from these Indians. She was threatned with arrest and imprisonment if she did not pay the debt. This was debt that she did not even owe and they were hounding her for the money. On the recording the Indian did not care whether she gave the recording to the local tv news who was investigating this case.

  • The__Bobster

    Getting harassed by a Punjab sounds like a joke fit for “The Simpsons”.

    • I W

      Mock them in their own accent, they Really, really, hate it. “Oh great gosh gollies of Gnish! I was having no idea about this, thank you, call again!” *click*

  • Since he is the one needed for these crimes to occur he should be charged in all of them.

    • I W

      He will probably claim that the ‘shakedown’ is an essential part of his vibrant and historically oppressed culture -like thugee.

  • Indians are among the largest groups of immigrants to the US. The others are Mexicans, Chinese and Filipinos

  • ageofknowledge

    Isn’t free trade great for our country’s citizens? NO.

  • These scamers know that Federal, State, or Local authorities will not protect our citizens.  

  • The only people who can send you to jail over debt is the IRS and it has to be a substantial one at that.  I thought everyone knew this.

    • Angry White Woman

      Sometimes when a person is being bullied and harassed they forget things like that. And the fact that the US (as yet!) does not have a “debtor’s prison”, and if there is a warrant out for your arrest they don’t call you on the telephone and warn you of that fact! 

  • I had my intro to Indian health care when a technician did not wash her hands or clean instruments. I told the owners of the health maintenance organization, an insurance run health care facility. Funny thing, the American nurses thanked me for complaining, they had trouble with this girl before but couldn’t do anything about it because of political correctness.

  • Who are the American creditors who referred receivables in arrears to this Patel scam?  Class action lawyers, this is right in your wheelhouse — Maybe you all should quit conniving to shear Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the NFL and get to work on this.