Who’s Making All Those Scam Calls? | #youtubescams | #lovescams | #datingscams

It was hard to ascertain how much this group was stealing from victims every day, but Shahbaz confessed that he was able to defraud one or two people every night, extracting anywhere from $200 to $300 per victim. He was paid about a quarter of the stolen amount. He told me that he and his associates would ask victims to drive to a store and buy gift cards, while staying on the phone for the entire duration. Sometimes, he said, all that effort was ruined if suspicious store clerks declined to sell gift cards to the victim. “It’s becoming tough these days, because customers aren’t as gullible as they used to be,” he told me. I could see from his point of view why scammers, like practitioners in any field, felt pressure to come up with new methods and scams in response to increasing public awareness of their schemes.

The more we spoke, the more I recognized that Shahbaz was a small figure in this gigantic criminal ecosystem that constitutes the phone-scam industry, the equivalent of a pickpocket on a Kolkata bus who is unlucky enough to get caught in the act. He had never thought of running his own call center, he told me, because that required knowing people who could provide leads — names and numbers of targets to call — as well as others who could help move stolen money through illicit channels. “I don’t have such contacts,” he said. There were many in Kolkata, according to Shahbaz, who ran operations significantly bigger than the one he was a part of. “I know of people who had nothing earlier but are now very rich,” he said. Shahbaz implied that his own ill-gotten earnings were paltry in comparison. He hadn’t bought a car or a house, but he admitted that he had been able to afford to go on overseas vacations with friends. On Facebook, I saw a photo of him posing in front of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and other pictures from a visit to Thailand.

I asked if he ever felt guilty. He didn’t answer directly but said there had been times when he had let victims go after learning that they were struggling to pay bills or needed the money for medical expenses. But for most victims, his rationale seemed to be that they could afford to part with the few hundred dollars he was stealing.

Shahbaz was a reluctant interviewee, giving me brief, guarded answers that were less than candid or directly contradicted evidence that L. had collected. He was vague about the highest amount he’d ever stolen from a victim, at one point saying $800, then later admitting to $1,500. I found it hard to trust either figure, because on one of his November calls I heard him bullying someone to pay him $5,000. He told me that my visit to his house had left him shaken, causing him to realize how wrong he was to be defrauding people. His parents and his wife were worried about him. And so, he had quit scamming, he told me.

“What did you do last night?” I asked him.

“I went to sleep,” he said.

I knew he was not telling the truth about his claim to have stopped scamming, however. Two days earlier, hours after our phone conversation following my visit to Garden Reach, Shahbaz had been at it again. It was on that night, in fact, that he tried to swindle Kathleen Langer in Crossville, Tenn. Before I came to see him for lunch, I had already heard a recording of that call, which L. shared with me.

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