Phone scam leader Sahil Patel gets over 14 years in prison, but H-1B visa, Green Card holders continue to get duped

Scammers prey mostly on Indians and Indian Americans.

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By Sujeet Rajan

Sujeet RajanNEW YORK: Sahil Patel, the notorious Indian American leader of a gang that operated for at least two years through an intricate phone scam that specialized in getting personal information of victims based in the United States, then terrorizing them through phone calls with threat to either have them arrested or deported if they don’t pay money to federal government agencies, was sentenced to over 14 years in prison, on Wednesday, in New York City.

There is no record of how much money was taken from victims, or how many victims there actually are – as many cases go unreported – but Patel was sentenced Wednesday in Manhattan for wire fraud conspiracy and other charges.

Patel committed the crimes from December 2011 until his arrest in December 2013, reported the Associated Press.


The prosecutors say people at call centers in India impersonated U.S. law enforcers and threatened victims with financial penalties and arrest if they didn’t send payments.

They say Patel exploited “desperate” co-conspirators — especially women. In a letter to the sentencing judge, Patel said he made “bad decisions” and begged for mercy. But that didn’t help him get a reprieve. He was justly sentenced to more than 14 years in prison, a term that prosecutors had asked for.

Related Story: H-1B visa holder? A call from 911? Beware!

Phone scams have mushroomed in the US in the last few years. The American Bazaar has done several stories on it, including interviewing several Indian and Indian American victims, who were coerced to send money to the gang through Green Dot and Western Union methods of payment.

In almost all of the cases, the modus operandi was the same: a phone call to the victim from a number that showed as ‘911’ or from the USCIS, or the IRS. The victims were made to believe through multiple people whom they spoke to thereafter that because of an error in their immigration documents, they would be deported with immediate effect, if they failed to send money to rectify the issue.

The victims would then be forced to immediately go to a bank, withdraw money and then give the pin numbers of Green Dot cards, or in some cases to wire the money through Western Union. They would be forced to keep the phone charged as the process went on, threatened with dire results if they tried to speak of the predicament to anybody else, or to disconnect the call.

Related Story: Got a call from the IRS threatening arrest, jail time? It’s a scam

The gang relied upon extensive research into the victim’s background, to back their plan. Most victims would be given periodically, through different people during the course of the phone call who pretended to be federal and law enforcement officials, personal details, including their passport and H-1B/Green Card details. The gang also were very familiar with local areas the victims lived in, and directed them expertly to various locations as the victim drove to one spot after the other to withdraw money, and then relay it to the gang.

Some victim lost thousands of dollars, some lost tens of thousands, all in the course of one day, to fraud phone calls which lasted for hours. The victims complied, paralyzed by fear that they would lose everything they had built through hard work and perseverance in America, be deported immediately, if they failed to heed directions.

Sahil Patel is not a threat anymore, but the phone scams are flourishing in the US nevertheless, as more and more gangs have discovered it as a way to make easy money through soft targets.

This writer recently interviewed an Indian American woman in Nashville, Tennessee, who became a victim of a phone scam. The victim, who requested anonymity, is a mother of a young child, and an IT professional. She is a Green Card holder. At the time the scam happened, her husband, also a Green Card holder, was in India.

This is what the victim had to say, after she got a call from a 911 number on her cell phone, on a day when she had left her child at a day care, and was working from home.

“The police officer calling from 911 number mentioned that it does not matter that I am a Green card holder. I had not filed for Alien Registration Number when I came to US and that’s why they will have me arrested  and will deport me to India right away.  This particular caller was very aggressive and was the main reason that scared the hell out of me. The line was transferred to the USCIS number and they said I have not entered my alien registration number.  It was a phone hostage situation. They kept pressing on the fact that my phone should be charged all the time and not get disconnected. Failure to comply with them would result in immediate arrest and that i would not even get a chance to defend myself. I was feeling extremely vulnerable since my husband was out of country, in India. I kept requesting that I needed to speak to my husband and kept crying and begging them but they would sternly say that I need to compose myself and do as they tell me if I need to clear my name.

“I was then asked to withdraw $5300; $300 towards a non-refundable fine and $5000 for initiation background check process. This money would be refunded to me in two working days. All I need to do was to submit the tracking number mentioned in Western Union fund transfer to my local USCIS office, I was told.

“After four hours of feeling like a phone hostage and going from one bank to another – these guys kept referring to the bank as “store” – I was feeling miserable and I started texting my husband in India. I had already wired $2000 using Western Union money transfer’s “money in minutes” option. I was heading for my 4th transfer when my husband who was getting very worried, started calling back. I texted him that I could not hang up the phone and to call back, else I would get arrested immediately. At that point, my husband reached out to my neighbor. He also was begging me to hang up and mentioned it was a scam. I refused to listen to my neighbor since I was so convinced with what these scammers said. Finally, my neighbor had to track me down; he snatched the phone from my hand and shouted at the callers for giving me so much grief.

“I came back home and typed “911 USCIS scam” and was shocked to see this scam has been on since 2012 and there has been no action , no investigation done till date. Next day I went to report to the police officers; they made a note of the incident number. There was really no sign of interest from them.

Related Story: Got a call from the IRS or the USCIS asking for money? Phone scams targeting Indians are on the rise

I just want to reach out to as many people as possible and tell them my story so that we don’t have any more scams.”

The terrifying ordeal for the victim ended that day, but she says she has been a nervous wreck since then, ridden with grief and guilt for being taken for a ride by a gang despite her being a modern woman of the world, who is well educated and independent.

Arrests and imprisonment of more culprits like Sahil Patel is much needed, but the state and federal governments too need to step up and start an awareness drive to let residents know of the threat from such gangs. If it’s not the threat of deportation, it’s threats from fraudulent IRS agents, or from utility companies who threaten to shut down businesses.

An ABC News report from earlier this year said federal officials say phony IRS agents have targeted more than 366,000 people with harassing phone calls demanding money and threatening jail in what the agency says is the biggest scam in its history. Since 2013 3,000 people have fallen for it and were conned out of $15.5 million.

Members of Congress like Grace Meng (D-NY) should also be commended for taking the crime of ‘spoofing’ on Capitol Hill.

Meng, Joe Barton (R-TX) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ) last month reintroduced legislation to combat a widespread telephone scam that continues to defraud millions of Americans, particularly the South Asian community.

The Anti-Spoofing Act of 2015 would target “caller ID spoofing,” a growing scheme in which con artists disguise their phone numbers to make it appear that they’re calling from a government agency, bank, police department, credit card company, pharmacy or hospital, said Meng. Once unsuspecting recipients answer the call, scammers ask for and often receive the person’s personal or financial information, then use it to commit fraud.

“The problem of caller ID spoofing has gotten out of control,” said Meng, Barton and Lance, in a joint statement sent to The American Bazaar. “Millions of Americans continue to get ripped off by con artists and scammers who perpetrate this despicable crime, many losing thousands of dollars. It is way past time to reign in this disgraceful practice and this legislation would go a long way towards accomplishing that critical goal. We call on the House and Senate to pass our bill as soon as possible.”

The legislation aims to combat spoofing by strengthening the Truth in Caller ID Act. It would broaden the law to prohibit spoofing by foreigners. Presently, many U.S.-based companies spoof calls to U.S. residents but originate them from outside the United States; broaden the law to include new internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services that enable callers to make outgoing-only calls from computers and tablets to mobile and landline phones, a practice that has contributed significantly to the spoofing problem; and broaden the law to include text messaging, a spoofing method that fraudsters use with increased regularity.

The House passed the bipartisan Meng/Barton/Lance bill last Congress, but it did not move in the Senate. This legislation is expected to be referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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

18 Comments

  1. Argument Clinic

    There ought to be sanctions against India until their law enforcement takes these issues seriously. They have no incentive to stop this behavior and it’s a BIG problem. I got one of those credit card scam calls with the phone operator clearly being Indian using all kinds of profanity and lewd comments because I wouldn’t go along with the scam.

  2. Just don’t listen to them.tell them I’m not interested in any grants or any loan.. This is all fraud..

  3. george mendez

    This is why i support the death sentence

  4. i suggest you download Marshal app you can search out on the Playstore for Marshal scam and spam detector it has the collection of over 10 million reported number.when ever you get a call you can also lookup for the number as well it blocks the number as well from the scammer automatically.this app is inspired by the scam victim to make cenetralized database of the scam number.it is also available in itunes too.Thank you

  5. I got scammed out of lots of money by these microsoft impersonators (Mytechgurus). I kind of wonder what the Government in India is doing about this. I think the land is beautiful, food and wildlife are splendid…but after this happened to me…I have a similar view of India as I do of China. Sad, disappointed not only with India, but with USA and the inability to prosecute these thugs. Rashmi, I totally hear you. I am sorry that many of the South Asian community were affected.

  6. Ameer Paul

    Only 14 – 15 years? He should be in jail for ever. He ruined the lives of the people and deprived them from their livelihood for ever. Shame on him if he knows what does shame mean.

  7. Rashmi Kothari

    This is probably one of the best news I’ve heard ever since I got scammed. I’ve been so embarrassed and shocked at myself that I could let something like this happened to me but he caught me in my most vulnerable state of mind and screwed by brains for a good 3-4 hrs. I still remember holding my 1 year old baby, going all around to make sure I got the money to him so I could keep my baby with me. I was weeping, I was scared, and I was everything that I should not have been but could not help it. I really prayed for him to rot in hell and I’m so happy to hear my prayers have been answered. Thank you to the entire US and other forces behind getting this %$#$#^ behind bars. He deserves no mercy for all the pain and trauma he has caused to so many many people.

    • Adnan Fayyaz

      Why blame him, if your intelligence doesn’t work? If you couldn’t figure this out with all your “education”, then whats the difference between you and an illiterate woman? I sympathize with you though…And I’m Not supporting this scumbag, let him rot in hell..

      • Rashmi Kothari

        I asked myself this question over and over again and still continue to do that… but for you to say something like this without knowing the complete situation does give a clear picture of your “intelligence” and “maturity”… but here’s some free advice, next time before standing on the high podium and giving the goddamn speech on intelligence, get the basics of empathy and compassion. Save your sympathy… for the arrogance with which you have posted this response, you might need it sooner than later.

      • tricks & evil

        so you’re a huge jerk, huh?

      • Wow, you are a fucking moron.

  8. At last our justice system did some good. This phone scam harassment calling people they owe tax money to IRS was going on for too long. Those congress man/woman and all involved justice departments deserve our big thanks. I wish they put this ring leader in maximum security prison where those die hard criminals deprived of sex use him as daily sex object reminding him every good person his act gave pain now pay back time. Like gravity, It’s universal that somewhere, sometime you got to pay for your bad karma

  9. NotPropagandized

    Phone scamming like this is not limited to Indian community. Such scammers use all sorts of official looking/sounding calls and mailed documents phishing for personal information under penalty of Federal law for not complying, etc, etc, etc. They’ve used Chamber of Commerce, Census Bureau and all sorts of official-type scams. Don’t answer!!

    • Ameer Paul

      I am an American of Pakistani origin, and I agree that phone scam is not limited to Indian American. But the defensive posture of this gentleman shows as if it is common. He should not be so emotional and defensive if it is true that phone scam is not common in Indian Community.

  10. rashmi suresh

    I have been scammed with this and was on the phone for over 3 hours. they had all my details and even pinpointed exactly which port of entry i had most recently come into the country with. I left work to deal with these ppl as instructed – without letting anyone know where i was going.

    14 years is too light a sentence. I have low Blood sugar, and i told the guy i was feeling faint, and that i needed to get something in my body before i fainted. I was threatened and made to drive around town in spite of that.

    Thankfully, i did not send them any money as they kept asking for my social and i told them that i am driving to the local uscis office as i did not want to tell that on the phone – or else i could call the local uscis office if they would give me their extension.

    Highlight is – they tried again 3 days after. I asked him calmly if he wanted to waste his time and mine.. the guy on the other side just muttered ” shit, yes your last name was familiar” and hung up

    • Ameer Paul

      I have several of this kind of scams. They called about my son of using Prescription Drugs. Then some called me about my so called unpaid taxes. Lottery. Money transfer in millions of dollars from Benin Republic, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Ghana, Iraq, India, etc, etc.

      For a phone call, I just ask them to remain on hold and put the phone aside for a minute or two, then saw if they were still there. If still there, I requested the same again to hold and kept on doing that again and again. And I tell you, it worked.

      For an Email, I ask to call me om phone and when they call, I used the delaying tactic, instead of replying them as I already mentioned. It works very fine for me.

  11. Suryo Saputro

    It’s sad to hear news like this. I can imagine how was her feelings when they called you with a 911 number, and threatened her that she will be arrested if she wasn’t send them immediate money. However, please, always check the truth. Like she said that later she Googled the number (911 scam), and finally she knows the truth. Why didn’t she know these scams before? There are so many news and articles about them online, at blogs and news sites. I even also found maybe hundreds of reports and complaints about phone scams at some consumer complaint board like http://whycall.me. I hope everyone will be more educated about these scams in the future. There are so many resource that we can read to avoid being scammed.

    • You can never be educated or vigilant enough to fend off all short of such criminal activities. Those thugs whose job is to figure out reaping people. So, best thing is people once know should post on web such activities and inform law enforcements as well your congress people to write laws in case these people using those loop holes. Only law enforcements can give right punishment and set examples to these people.

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