Three Tampa men indicted for alleged IRS, payday loan scheme

Chalk up another potential scam call business originating in Florida: Three Tampa men have been indicted in an alleged scheme to defraud Americans by posing as loan agents and representatives of the Internal Revenue Service.

In a federal indictment entered Oct. 24, Hemalkumar Shah, Nishitkumar Patel and Sharvil Patel were accused of operating a call center in India that extorted money from its victims.

Under the scam outlined by the government: callers phoned Americans and pretended to be either the Internal Revenue Service calling about back taxes or a payday loan officer offering fake payday loans for a small “worthiness fee” to ensure the customer could afford to pay the loan.

The alleged scheme started around August 2014 and ran through June 2016. Callers used phone numbers that looked like they originated in the U.S., even though they actually were from India.

All three were charged with wire fraud and extortion. Shah and Nishitkumar Patel were also charged with aggravated identity theft and illegal monetary transaction.

The charges carry a maximum of a 20-year prison sentence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is calling for the men to forfeit property worth up to $2.3 million, the amount they allegedly pocketed from the scheme.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, attorneys listed for the accused men had not returned a request for comment.

Florida is no stranger to the fraudulent call business. This spring, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against a Boca Raton-based network of companies that it tried to charge small businesses to remain in Google’s index, which the call companies had no control over.

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Related coverage: Federal Trade Commission sues Florida companies for robocall scams

The Sunshine State also ranked No. 3 for the most received and sent robocalls in March, according to the YouMail Robocall Index Snapshot.

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Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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