A unique phone scam that preys on fear.
By Sujeet Rajan
When X answered, fear gripping him, the caller identified himself as a police officer. Police were trying to contact him for the last two weeks, there is bad news, the caller said: X had to leave the country, with his family, immediately, within the next 24 hours. Because of an immigration violation, they would not be allowed to enter the US again for the next 20 years. A team of immigration and police officials would be reaching his house within the hour to escort them to the airport, deport them.
For X, this was one of his worst fears come true. He had come from India to work in the US on an H-1B visa a year ago, was just finding his feet in the new land with his stay-at-home wife and two- year-old child. The caller, X said in an exclusive interview to this reporter, recounting the incident, seemed to be of Indian or South Asian origin going by a slight accent, had flawless English.
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The caller said: get out of the office immediately, rush home. Don’t inform your colleagues. Leave now. You don’t have much time. Don’t cut this call.
In total panic, X rushed out of the office without saying a word to anybody. His apartment was a 10-minute drive away.
Put the phone on speaker, don’t take any other call, the caller said. The police and immigration team will be there at his house any minute. X complied.
When he reached home, the caller told X to log onto his computer, go to the USCIS immigration website. As his puzzled and alarmed wife looked on, X, who was almost paralyzed with fear, ignored her repeated queries of what was going on, logged on to the site, his cellphone held to his ear.
Check your alien registration number, the caller told X. When he mumbled he didn’t know what that is, the caller told him to search for it on the site. When X told him he found what it means, the caller asked him: do you have an alien registration number? No? Well, that is the problem. You Make sure that you’re capable of best-driving-school.com safely and confidently, without prompting from an instructor, with this unique package of official products from the Driving Standards Agency – the people who set the best-driving-school.com tests. didn’t give this information when you entered the country. Why did you come here? What are your intentions? This is why we want you deported. You need to go to your High Commission in New Delhi, pay a fine of $2,200. After that you will be issued a new 1-94 card. Then only can you enter back into the country. If you don’t pay the fine, you can’t get back into the US for the next 20 years. Do you want to go back to India?
X replied: Yes, I can go. The caller asked: do you have the $2,200 fine to pay? X said yes, and asked: is there any solution to this problem without leaving the country?
The caller said: If you are willing to pay the $2,200 right away, today, we can process your case, and halt deportation.
When X said he could do that, asked how he should pay, by check or credit card, the caller told him to get money from his bank, and get GreenDot cards (pre-paid debit cards) from a 7-Eleven store; four $500 cards, one $200 card.
“I didn’t know what GreenDot was, never heard about it” X said in the interview. “If he had said Western Union, I might still have been warned of something fishy going on. But Green Dot. I thought, maybe it is something the immigration use to process cases fast.”
X rushed out of the house, to his bank, without saying anything to his wife, who was in tears by now, at the dazed state her husband was in. As soon as he left, she called a colleague of X, told him that she feared something bad was going on.
When X reached a local 7-Eleven, he was told that the maximum cards he could get at a time was worth $2,000, and he would have to come back for the rest. He came out of the store, told the caller the problem. It’s ok. Get the $2,000, you can pay the $200 later, he was told. When X made the purchase, the caller took down the numbers of all the four scratch cards, worth $500 each.
The time now was 5:30 p.m. X’s cellphone was running low on battery. He informed the caller. The caller told him to give his landline number and to rush back home and log onto the computer to complete the immigration process to halt his deportation order.
As he drove, the caller asked X if all his passport information was the same. When X said yes, the caller told him the correct residential address in India, and asked him if that was still the same on his passport. X said yes.
“That made even more sense to me at that time, they knew everything about me, that this was immigration at work,” X said in the interview.
When X reached home, the caller cut the call on the cell, called him on the land line. Later on, from the Vonage phone logs, X found out the number showed up as 011-Anonymous.
At home also was X’s colleague, whom his wife had called earlier. A native of India too, the colleague had recently become an American citizen.
X didn’t heed to his colleague’s and wife’s repeated queries, but immediately logged onto his computer, trying to beat the near deadline for his deportation order as the caller had warned him. He was told to fill out a 1-94 form. The caller said he would help him do it, and once finished, had to email that form to him.
When he heard the conversation on the phone, which was on speaker, the colleague became suspicious. He asked X to ask the caller for his police badge and ID number. The caller asked X why he wanted that, unaware of the colleague present in the room. The colleague told X to cut the phone call. The phone rang again. The caller asked X sternly why he had cut the call. X again cut the call. This time, the phone went silent. It was 6:30 p.m.
X’s 2 hours and 18 minutes of ordeal of terror had come to an end.
“I completely believed this guy,” said X. “It was because of the 911 number. I completely believed it. I really believed I was talking to a police officer.”
On Tuesday, X informed his office, who had sponsored his H-1B visa. They sympathized with him, told him to lodge a police complaint. He lodged an online report. An officer got in touch with him Wednesday, told him that the case was being transferred to the local police station, an officer would get in touch with him Thursday, a case number would be given.
X says he doesn’t mind recounting what happened to the police all over again.
“I don’t want anybody else to be scammed the way I have been. It was terrifying for my family too,” he said.
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar).
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