Newspaper Article 03/02/2023
India has been proudly trumpeting its success in the IT industry, especially its dominance in call center businesses across the globe. This is generating a whopping amount of $28 billion annually. The reality, however, is quite different. Like many other statecrafts, the Indian IT boom is highly exaggerated in the context of its contribution towards the expansion of IT knowledge and serving humanity through IT services. India is yet to find solutions to many of its social problems where IT can help, but for various reasons, this is not happening.
In December 2022, Indian media exposed the extent of Indian-origin cybercrime against international citizens, particularly elderly Americans. According to FBI data, published by Times of India, $3bn was stolen from elderly Americans during the last 2 years alone by romance-related frauds and ‘tech support’ pop-ups, originating largely from illegal call centers and phishing gangs in India. FBI has also exposed the pace at which Indian-origin cybercrimes are increasing. According to a Times of India report, the FBI has also disclosed, “all call center related frauds in the last 11 months having been estimated at $10.2bn, an increase of 47% against last year’s $6.9bn”.
Recently a fake call scam has been unearthed revealing shocking details regarding Indian involvement in the fake scamming of numerous customers including US citizens across the globe. This is defrauding millions of dollars from them. Mumbai police booked or arrested three suspects in relation to the case. Indian cybercriminals have an extensive network that enables them to commit such crimes with impunity at such an exponential magnitude every year. This was exposed when US authorities indicted 6 India-based call centers and their directors for allegedly forwarding scam calls to US citizens. The call centers and their directors were charged with conspiring with the previously indicted Voice over Internet Protocol provider e-Sampark and its director Gaurav Gupta, for forwarding “tens of millions of scam calls to American customers”.
The modus operandi of a criminal trio that allegedly ran a call center, posed as representatives of a reputed pharmaceutical company. They would call US citizens via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and offer medicines. Those who would fall prey would share their credit card details, make the payment and never receive any medicines. Through this scam, the trio has cheated many US citizens. They manipulate their targets into transferring money, either through threats or false sales.
The crisis is so severe that the FBI had to put a permanent representative at the US embassy in New Delhi to keep tabs on such activities originating from India. This representative will work along with the teams of CBI, Interpol and Delhi Police to hunt down phishing gangs. The teams will also be able to freeze money transferred through wire and cryptocurrencies to these crime syndicates running fake call centers from India. The US will be able to protect its citizens, but what about the rest of the world? It’s impossible to assume that these cybercriminals are only targeting US citizens. The rest of the world is also a target of these Indian-based cyber criminals.
This is not the first time India-based call centers have been rounded up for scamming Americans. In 2020, Hitesh Hinglaj of Ahmedabad was sentenced on charges of wire fraud conspiracy. The charges included general conspiracy to commit identification fraud, access device fraud, money laundering, and impersonation of a federal officer or employee. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release in the southern district of Texas. This was for his role in operating and funding India-based call centers that defrauded US victims out of millions of dollars between 2013 and 2016.
In 2016, the US justice department officials filed charges against 61 people and gave India-based call centers as the scheme had defrauded at least 15000 American victims out of more than $250 million. All these cases of digital fraud by Indian cybercriminals have put the fifth-largest economy at risk of being branded as a net exporter of internet and call center-related swindles.
This disturbing trend of fake call center businesses and cybercrime being committed through them is not limited to financial fraud. These call centers have also become propaganda tools for the RSS/BJP regime. RSS-BJP government has made things increasingly difficult, as now hundreds of millions of Indians are exposed to communal propaganda through the internet. So, instead of aiding development, Indian IT cyberspace has become a harbinger of communal unrest & violence against minorities.
This business of misuse of cyberspace is not limited to Indian internal politics. It has external dynamics as well. The Indian state launched a 15-year-long anti-Pakistan campaign, with an integral part covering the setup of hundreds of anti-Pakistan websites across the world. Indian cybercrimes must not be ignored by the global community in the information age. Ideas can be weaponized within a few minutes, triggering a broader humanitarian crisis in a communally charged environment. No doubt, Indian cybercrime hubs (call centers) are cancerous for the global economy but these other dimensions of Indian misuse of cyberspace must not be ignored either.
Note: This article appeared in Kashmir Watch, dated 03 February 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.