THANE, India — Betsy Broder, who tracks international fraud at the Federal Trade Commission, was in her office in Washington last summer when she got a call from two Indian teenagers.
Calling from a high-rise building in a suburb of Mumbai, they told her, in tones that were alternately earnest and melodramatic, that they wanted to share the details of a sprawling criminal operation targeting Americans. Ms. Broder, who was no stranger to whistle-blowers, pressed the young men for details.
“He said his name was Adam,” she said, referring to one of the pair. “I said: ‘Your name is not Adam. What does your grandmother call you?’ He said, ‘Babu.’”
Babu was Jayesh Dubey, a skinny 19-year-old with hair gelled into vertical bristles, a little like a chimney brush. He told her that he was working in a seven-story building and that everyone there was engaged in the same activity: impersonating Internal Revenue Service officials and threatening Americans, demanding immediate payment to cover back taxes.
If they reached a person who was sufficiently terrified or gullible — this was known in the business as a “sale” — they would instruct that person to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of iTunes cards to avoid prosecution, they said; the most rattled among them complied. The victim would then send the codes from the iTunes cards to the swindlers, giving them access to the money on the card.
As it happened, the United States government had been tracking this India-based scheme since 2013, a period during which Americans, many of them recent immigrants, have lost $100 million to it.
Though India had no reputation as a large-scale exporter of fraud in the past, it is now seen as a major center for fraud, said Suhel Daud, an F.B.I. agent who serves as assistant legal attaché at the embassy in New Delhi. Several trends have converged to make this happen, he said: a demographic bulge of computer-savvy, young, English-speaking job seekers; a vast call-center culture; super-efficient technology; and what can only be described as ingenuity.
“They have figured all of this out,” Mr. Daud said. “Put all of these together, with the Indian demographics in the U.S., and it’s a natural segue. Whatever money you’re making, you can easily make 10 times as much.”
‘I Want Money. That’s Why.’
Pawan Poojary and Jayesh Dubey, best friends and college dropouts, were impressed with the Phoenix 007 call center in Thane, a suburb northeast of Mumbai. The interviewer carried an iPhone; there were racing sport bikes parked outside, and, as Mr. Poojary put it, “girls roaming here and there.” The monthly salary was average for call centers, 16,000 rupees (about $230), they said, but the bonuses were double or triple that, based on sales.