CHERYL LISEE HAD FALLEN on difficult days. Her son was in hospital and though she was receiving some retirement benefits, the 64-year-old resident of the state of Georgia in the United States had been finding it difficult to meet her expenses. In her desperation, Lisee remembered a cold call she had received in the fourth week of August this year, offering her a federal government loan, and leaving her with a number to contact if she was interested. One day, towards the end of August, Lisee dialled the number that the caller had given her.
Lisee’s call did not go through to any US government agency. Instead, a phone rang half a world away, in an apartment in the crowded locality of Pitampura in north-west Delhi. A young man in his mid-30s from Manipur answered the call, and introduced himself as “Eric”. Speaking in a smooth, practised American twang, Eric assured Lisee that he would take her through the process of acquiring the loan. All she would have to do, he told her, is pay a processing fee of $250.
“Eric” is the fake name of an employee of a rogue call centre, one of thousands—as estimated by the Delhi Police—in the capital. These illegal outfits are spread across the city, operating out of one- or two-bedroom apartments in areas such as Vikaspuri, Pitampura, Noida, Dwarka, Janakpuri and Mahipalpur. Typically, each office comprises a few dozen “agents”, who call people in the US and UK and offer them loans, leaving them with a number to call back if they are interested. When the victim calls back, a supervisor, such as Eric, takes over to follow through with the swindle.