By Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thai and U.S. officials on Wednesday said they had arrested 20 suspects for allegedly duping hundreds of Americans back home of around U.S. $87 million in a call center scam.
Officers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Secret Service and the FBI along with Thai officials concluded “Operation Shell Game” on Tuesday with the arrest of 15 Thais and 5 Indians in raids in Chon Buri, Rayong, Roi Et and Surat Thani provinces, they said.
“During the operation, we arrested 20 suspects, including five prime suspects,” Pol. Lt. Gen. Worawat Watnakhonbancha, the chief of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau, said at a news conference.
The suspects were charged with involvement in transnational crimes, fraud and money laundering.
Sixteen other suspects remain at large, Worawat said.
The ring leaders, he said, were the five Indian nationals who in collaboration with Thai partners set up companies to scam elderly Americans in the United States.
The scammers posed as U.S. officials and told targets they were under investigation for money laundering. They then told the scared targets that to prove their innocence they must transfer money to certain accounts.
“From Thailand [call centers], about 3 billion baht (U.S. $87 million) was scammed from 365 people,” Worawat said.
The joint Thai-U.S. investigation discovered that the group had allegedly set up more than 40 companies to receive the money transfers from their U.S. victims. The scammers then allegedly laundered the ill-gotten gains by buying properties in Thailand, officials said.
More than 70,000 Americans have fallen prey to call center scams worldwide, losing more than U.S. $2.9 billion, according to U.S. officials.
A U.S. Secret Service official hailed the cooperation with Thai law enforcement.
“The United States national security strategy includes a firm commitment to investing in the resilient future while forging strong international partnerships to pursue those shared goals,” said the official Christopher Rohde, at the news conference.
“The cooperation with the Royal Thai Police is a clear example of the value of such a relationship towards achieving a common goal.”