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Phone scams spiking; India-based company indicted

Flowery Branch Police investigator Robin Kemp said phone scam calls have escalated in the past six months with dozens of reports, with other officers and even Kemp himself receiving calls.

“At least once or twice a week, I’ll get a report like that, somebody calling about that,” Kemp said.

Fortunately, all of the people Kemp has spoken with for these reports hung up on the callers.

“That’s not to say there aren’t victims out there that once they’ve figured they’ve been a victim, they’re just, out of embarrassment, won’t come forward to report it,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia announced an indictment Tuesday, Nov. 17, concerning an India-based voice-over-internet-protocol provider and its director, alleging more than $20 million was taken after millions of robocalls in the U.S.

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The attorney’s office also said a federal court ordered a server farm to stop providing servers to the defendants.

“The defendants bombarded American consumers with scam calls, causing emotional and financial devastation, including to vulnerable and elderly individuals,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak in a statement.  “Those who facilitate fraudulent calls into the United States will be investigated and brought to justice.”

There is no evidence any cases reported to local law enforcement are linked directly to the federal indictment.

But Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derreck Booth said the community service officer receives complaints about phone scams almost every day, though not all of the reports are like the case reported by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Booth said there have been six cases classified as “fraudulent telephone solicitation” in 2020 and nine total since late 2018.

“Based on the informal accounts of the community service officer, the number of complaints like or similar to this are obviously much higher than the nine coded as ‘fraudulent telephone solicitation,’” Booth wrote in an email.

Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said the department received seven reports of reported scam calls since Oct. 1. In two of those cases, the person lost money.

“Most of the reports indicate the victims were being vigilant and did not fall for the scam,” Van wrote in an email. “There was one case where the victim was elderly and a family member intervened, preventing the victim from withdrawing money to send. This is a good reminder for everyone to look out for their elderly family members and friends, to make sure they don’t fall for phone scams.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the India-based callers pretended to be from different government agencies or businesses.

“The callers allegedly used multiple frauds, including Social Security impersonation, IRS impersonation, and loan scams,” according to the attorney’s office. “As part of a Social Security scam, India-based callers posed as federal agents in order to mislead victims into believing their Social Security number was involved in crimes. Callers threatened arrest and the loss of the victims’ assets if the victims did not send money.”

Kemp said phone scammers will often “spoof” the phone number to appear as if it’s coming from the legitimate business or government agency on the caller ID. 

“Once that money is gone, it’s gone,” Kemp said. “It’s just very difficult if not impossible to investigate and make charges against these folks because they are out of the country.”

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