Congresswoman Grace Meng’s legislation to clamp down on phone scams targeting Indians in the US laudable, but Govt. needs to do more

Widespread cases of ‘spoofing’ targeting South Asians.

By Sujeet Rajan

SujeetNEW YORK: Democrat New York Congresswoman Grace Meng’s renewed appeal to clamp down on ‘spoofing’ – the term used for the scheme used by criminals to fleece people through phone scams that use a combination of identity theft and psychological pressure to prey on individual vulnerabilities, like threats of arrest and deportation – is laudable, but legislation apart, law enforcement needs to crack down hard to curb this growing menace in society.

Meng has rightly pointed out that ‘spoofing’ is prevalent in America, but South Asians are targeted specifically, and wants Congress to pass the ‘Anti-Spoofing Act’. It would, among other things, tighten the 2009 Truth in Caller ID Act to ensure that penalties are imposed on all those who use caller ID to misrepresent themselves in order to obtain personal or financial information.

The bill, which is pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would also broaden the law to prohibit spoofing by callers outside the US; include new internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services which enable callers to make outgoing-only calls from computers and tablets to mobile and landline phones; and broaden also the law to include text messaging.

Most complaints of spoofing involve criminals posing as US officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) or from the law enforcement calling up victims with fake names and phone numbers that are displayed on recipients’ caller IDs in order to trick them into answering the phone.

When unsuspecting individuals pick up the call, the scammer demands immediate payment for unpaid taxes, or to stop immediate arrest and subsequent deportation. Those who receive the call are told to pay with a debit card or wire transfer.

‘Spoofing’ is widely used also by con artists as well as unscrupulous telemarketers, points out Meng. Fraudsters use the practice to swindle the public out of money by misrepresenting themselves as not only government agencies, but hospitals, banks, pharmacies and credit card companies.

“If people receive a call from somebody claiming to be an IRS official, they should be very cautious and suspicious,” said Meng. “If the caller asks for money, they should hang up immediately. These are not government officials trying to correct a tax problem. They are con artists trying to rip people off. The public should know that IRS does not ask for payments or personal information over the phone. The public should be on guard against this outrageous scam, and not fall victim to it.”

The American Bazaar has done several stories on this growing criminality. A lot of victims have got calls from 911. There is an instance of an individual, with her spouse, paying as much as $30,000 in the course of a single day, frightened out of their wits by the callers, caving in to their demands.

Read this story here of an Indian couple in San Diego who paid $30,000 to these criminals, to as they believed, avoid arrest and deportation by the USCIS.

Read this story of an individual who was forced to pay $2,000 under the fear of arrest and deportation by the USCIS.

Read this story of a relative of a staff member of The American Bazaar who got a call from the IRS.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website (www.ftc.org) has a lot of information on identity theft, and what victims can do to report personal loss, including when accounts are opened surreptitiously in their name, and fraudulent transactions occur. But the criminals have found loopholes, and almost all of the individuals who are scammed are asked to use pre-paid debit cards like Green Dot, which can be bought at pharmacy stores and at 7-Elevens in the country.

Several victims, in interviews to this reporter, disclosed that when they called the Green Dot company to complain, it was not taken seriously; nothing has come of it. While banks and credit card companies are liable for fraudulent transactions, companies like Green Dot have no such obligations. That policy should change.

While the FBI takes cognizance of such crimes, appoint an officer to look into individual cases, busts and arrests are not happening as it should. No examples are being made of such criminals. They are going ahead with utter brazenness.

A private investigator told The American Bazaar that the FBI is swamped by cases of all kinds, are short of manpower and could years to crack such cases, if at all.

In the modern world where criminals are increasingly invading people’s homes and destructing lives through rampant identity theft, it’s imperative government pass legislation like the one Meng has proposed. They should also start a widespread public awareness program, especially amongst the South Asian population, to highlight the daylight theft happening with impunity.

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar.)

To contact the author, email to editor@americanbazaaronline.com

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