Why robocalls from India-based call centers are on decline

‘India-based call centers allegedly scared their victims and stole their money, including some victims’ entire life savings’

By Kiran N. Kumar

Scams involving robocalls have become a menace with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cracking down on them to stop illicit and foreign robocalls, especially after an open request from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, as part of a bipartisan group of 51 attorneys general, in January this year.

Robokiller, an app that blocks spam calls and texts, said in its report that on average of 42 spam texts were received by an American in March 2022 and 14 spam calls per person, besides online spam, such as emails and other messages.

Read: US indicts six India-based call centers for phone scams (February 7, 2022)

US came 20th on a list of nations being spammed, according to a report by Truecaller. In 2020, Americans lost more than $520 million through robocall scams.

Most of them are traced to mushrooming Indian call centers, requiring enforcement authorities in both countries to crack down on them in the last one year.

In addition, the Covid-19 has reportedly made many of these robocall centers shut on their own due to the pandemic. But the return to normalcy has again raised the demand for a guard against such call centers.

US authorities have previously prosecuted many Indians and those of Indian descent in relation to these scams. For instance, 21 of them were sentenced in a single case in 2018 and more than 30 people were named as conspirators in India involving five India-based call-centers. After this, Indian authorities have reported numerous raids to bust these call centers as well.

Robocall scams
US investigators have identified at least six types of scams conducted through these robocalls: extort victims with penalty for fake income tax fraud; get them to transfer money for safekeeping because of compromised Social Security Number; help with tech support; demand fines for incomplete immigration document; make victims pay a fee for clearing some hurdle in the way of pre-approved loans; and paying off foreign government law enforcement pursuing some case.

Though not part of the process, the “gateway carriers” served as the interface between Indian callers and recipients and American carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, letting millions of daily robocalls go through undetected or with call-backs for a certain fee. A 2018 complaint against such provider TollFreeDeals alleged that it carried 425 million robocalls in just 29 days.

It was found that between May and June 2019, TollFreeDeals transmitted 143 million calls from a single India-based entity and 20% of them were Social Security Number frauds and 35% were loan approval scams, and the rest were a mix of tech support, income tax fraud and others.

Read: After the IRS scam, fraudsters now spoof Indian embassy phones to extort money (March 5, 2018)

While the Indian call centers suffered heavily during the peak of Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, many businesses moved to the Philippines for relatively quick transition.

But the cases of fraud remained relatively active. In February 2022, multiple India-based call centers and their directors were indicted for perpetuating phone scams by the US Department of Justice.

The list included the previously–indicted VoIP provider E Sampark, and its Director, Guarav Gupta, for forwarding tens of millions of scam calls to American consumers. Another company was found to have carried 182 million of these calls from a single “India-based VOIP carrier conspirator”.

Other India-based call centers and their directors named included — Manu Chawla and Achievers, A Spirit of BPO Solutions Private Limited; Sushil Sachdeva, Nitin Kumar Wadwani, Swarndeep Singh, aka Sawaran Deep Kohli, and Fintalk Global; Dinesh Manohar Sachdev and Global Enterprises; Gaje Singh Rathore and Shivaay Communication Private Limited; Sanket Modi and SM Technomine Private Limited; and Rajiv Solanki and Technomind Info Solutions.

“Scam robocalls cause emotional and financial devastation to victims, particularly our vulnerable and elderly populations,” said Attorney Kurt Erskine. “These India-based call centers allegedly scared their victims and stole their money, including some victims’ entire life savings.”

FCC tightens rules
Following Ashley’s letter, FCC has tightened the rules requiring the companies that transmit phone calls originating in foreign countries to public telephone networks, called gateway providers, to comply with STIR/SHAKEN, a protocol intended to combat caller ID spoofing.

According to the FCC, even small carriers previously given exception must implement STIR/SHAKEN by June 30. In addition, the FCC is also demanding that gateway providers take additional measures to reduce robocalls, including:

Responding to requests from law enforcement, state Attorneys General, or the FCC to trace back calls within 24 hours.
Blocking calls when providers are made aware of an illegal or likely fraudulent caller by the FCC.
Stopping calls that originate from numbers on a ‘do not originate’ list – such as certain government phone numbers that are for incoming calls only.
Requiring that foreign telephone companies partnering with providers register with the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database before they are allowed to transmit calls that use phone numbers.

Lawful call centers
Although, FCC has been quick to respond, accelerate the implementation of STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication frameworks, the lawful businesses such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) call centers have urged FCC to provide protection from its crackdown on robocalls as they proved imminent and indispensable during the pandemic.

Read: Why Can’t We Hang Up on India’s Telemarketing Scams? (March 1, 2022)

A 2020 study by Harvard Business Review showed that during the pandemic, difficult calls increased by 50% adding to the increase in call volume. Several companies saw hold times increase by 34% and escalations rise by 68%. Even the call centers faced a variety of remote and hybrid working environments. In a survey by NBC and Telemundo, 75% of respondents said customer service has gotten worse during the pandemic. About 55% of callers did not get their issues resolved during the peak time.

As FCC is tightening the rules to stop fraud robocalls, the lawful business hope they are exempted from the crackdown.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.