Police in Thane, Bombay say they have arrested 70 call-centre workers on suspicion of tricking American citizens into sending them money by posing as US tax officials.
A total of 772 workers were arrested earlier on Wednesday in raids on nine fake call centres in a Bombay (Mumbai) suburb, a senior police official told Reuters news agency.
Seventy were placed under formal arrest, 630 were released pending questioning over the coming days, and 72 were freed without further investigation.
“The motive was earning money,” said Parag Manere, a deputy commissioner of police. “They were running an illegal process, posing themselves as officers of the [US] Internal Revenue Service.”
Manere said the alleged scammers asked Americans to buy prepaid cash cards in order to settle outstanding tax debts and also used the threat of arrest against people who did not pay up.
The police official did not identify the company where the call-centre workers were employed, or any of the main players involved in the alleged scam.
Police say those involved in the scam at the Indian end retained 70% of the earnings, with 30% going to their US collaborators.
Paramvir Singh, the police commissioner of Thane, told reporters that 851 hard disks, high-end servers, and other electronic equipment had been seized.
Mr Singh said overnight raids on Wednesday had lasted well into the morning, and involved more than 200 policemen who had raided buildings in three locations in the city.
Thane police superintendent Mahesh Patil told BBC Hindi that the investigation could open up cases from other countries as well.
A US State Department official said: “We have seen reports and are following the situation closely to confirm any US citizen involvement. We would refer you to the local Indian authorities for further details on the case.”
He declined to comment on whether Mumbai police were investigating in conjunction with US authorities, or say what prompted the inquiry.
Last year, a Pennsylvania man who helped coordinate a fraud in which India-based callers preyed on vulnerable Americans by pretending to be US government agents was sentenced to 14 years and six months in prison.
India is home to a vast number of back office operations for North American and European companies.
Thousands of call-centres in India provide back office services to these firms, processing everything from utility payments to credit card bills.
While such business arrangements help western companies cut costs, there have been frequent allegations of security breaches and improper trading of consumers’ account details and other commercial information for profit.