How four international YouTube sleuths teamed up to expose call centre scams in Kolkata | #youtubescams | #lovescams | #datingscams


A recent viral video shows YouTubers from the US and UK investigating and pranking scammers
In 2021, when LA-based American YouTuber Mark Rober began getting a lot of scam calls, he decided to dig deeper into their origins and found that a majority came from India. Rober, an ex-NASA engineer-turned YouTuber who is famous for his videos on popular science and DIY gadgets, teamed up with other YouTubers for a year-long project investigating fake call centres in Kolkata.
Their findings were revealed in a viral video that released recently, which detailed how an international team of YouTubers, including Rober, Jim Browning and Trilogy Media, collected evidence about these call centres and temporarily shut them down through pranks like releasing glitter bombs, smoke bombs, cockroaches and rats in their offices.
The video by Rober, which has garnered 35 million views till date, is a part of a popular subgenre in which international YouTubers-turned-amateur sleuths ‘scam bait’ and expose call centre scammers. For instance Browning is an Irish software engineer and YouTuber, whose previous investigations had led to the Gurugram police raiding and making arrests at a fake call centre in 2020.

This time, Browning helped the team zero in on the four call centres in the video, infiltrated and gained access to the CCTV camera feeds and computers of the call centres. “They were the biggest we could find,” Rober says. San Francisco-based Trilogy Media’s Ashton Bingham and Art Kulik, who make videos of themselves confronting scammers on phone and in person and have helped reformed scammers in the past, recruited two undercover agents in India who had previously been employees of these call centres. In turn, these agents found other spies who applied for jobs at these call centres and posed as employees to infiltrate their offices.
“When we talked to scammers, they’d brag that you can’t do anything to us, but little by little we befriended some Indian ex-scammers, crowdfunded to enable them to leave their jobs and open legitimate business,” Kulik says. “In turn, they began giving us information on how things work – so it was like a puzzle that took us years of investigation to put together.”

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In April, Bingham and Kulik travelled to Kolkata to execute the pranks. “We knew who the bosses were and even their social media accounts but now we had to go to India and prove it,” Kulik says. “These physical addresses where we smuggled our devices helped us in connecting all dots together and we found that everything was right – same addresses, same floors, same employees, same bosses.” However, the two were forced to hide after they were identified by scammers and found death threats being issued for them. “Sitting in the hotel room, hiding from being shot, hitting an obstacle every 30 seconds – just the logistics of those days in Kolkata were the hardest part,” Bingham says.
Eventually, their Indian collaborators smuggled the prank devices – which were custom built by Rober to carry stink and glitter bombs, cockroaches and rats – inside these offices resulting in temporary closure. Rober says that the prank helped make the videos viral and spread more awareness about the scams. “How do we make something entertaining while shining a spotlight on this really serious and damaging situation that’s ruining real people’s lives?” Rober says. “Glitter bombs and cockroaches are funny and harmless and just the means to an end.”
Mumbai-based cybercrime investigator Ritesh Bhatia says that such call centres have been mushrooming all over India, especially Delhi NCR and Mumbai. “This is like another Jamtara targeted towards Americans and Canadians where you’re paid in dollars,” Bhatia adds. “Often these call centres do legitimate business with legitimate clients in the day but turn to illegitimate activities at night.”
Bhatia explains that a call centre usually comprises of fronters or openers who start the conversations and verifiers or closers who close the deals. “The employees are usually young, even as young as 19, with many not even aware of what they’re being recruited for,” Bhatia says. However, employers hook them with good salaries, high commissions and perks like alcohol, parties and holidays.
The modus operandi of these scams has been changing over the years though the targets are often elderly Americans and Canadians unfamiliar with technology through emails or automated robocalls. IRS scams were popular a few years ago, where con men posed as US tax officials and swindled victims to pay up money as fines for fake tax evasion cases. Others pretend to be support staff from tech companies and scare victims into believing that their computers are infected by a virus and ask for money to fix it.
Rober’s viral video features another recent scam in which victims are called and emailed about being charged for fictitious online orders, with instructions to call a helpline to reverse it. “Once victims call, the scammer takes control of the laptop through a remote monitoring software and modifies the screen to trick the victim into believing they’ve got a bigger refund than they should,” Bhatia says.
The victims are then manipulated to courier the excess refund in cash to a US address, from where it is picked up by a collection agent or “mule” and sent to scammers in India via gift cards, cryptocurrency or even cheques. In the last couple of years, Rober has intercepted several “mules” in the US. “Part of the reason why we decided to go to India was that the mules weren’t sure what they were picking up and sent the bulk of the money back to India,” he says. “We wanted to go to the top.”
Since the release of the video, Kolkata Police has conducted multiple raids on fake call centres in the city’s Salt Lake neighbourhood and made several arrests. This has resulted in the closure of Met Technologies, one of the companies named by the YouTubers, and the arrests of 15 of its senior officials. Cops have said they are verifying the details of others.
The YouTubers say that they’ve shared evidence with authorities in the US and India. “When you have access to their computers, you can see everything they are doing from CCTV footage to lists of victims to recorded calls of them actually scamming people,” Bingham said.
But as Bhatia points out, even when one call centre closes down, another one opens in another location. The fact that the complainants aren’t in India is also a major roadblock. “A lot of times the victims are in the US but the calls are from India so the US police have a hard time prosecuting and the Indian authorities say there are no victims there complaining about it,” Rober says. “I hope this bridges that gap and the governments take it seriously.”
For now, the YouTubers have plans to do a follow up. Bingham and Kulik are also working on a documentary about the ex-scammers they’ve worked with in India. “We’ve talked to thousands of scammers over the years, and while there are many bad apples, there is sometimes the occasional person who got caught up in this dirty organization by means of necessity,” Bingham said. “A common story we hear is a young kid trying to find work, and getting recruited into these centers without knowledge of it being a scam. Once they’re in, the bosses make it very difficult for them to leave.”





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