US targets Nigerian fraudsters, 30 arrested
(The Washington Times) and Matthew Medsger (Tribune-Review)
Efforts by law enforcement agencies in the United States to curb the activities of Nigerian fraudsters targeting Americans, appear to have yielded dividends at the weekend with the arrest of 30 suspects in Nigeria. Another suspect, Taiwo Musiliudeen Idris, was also arrested for email scam.
Already, US law ebforcement agents have arrested 74 people — including 42 in the United States — for allegedly hijacking wire transfer funds through a sophisticated email scam, the Justice Department said on Monday.
The arrests were part of Operation Wire Wire, a six-month investigation by the Justice Department, U.S. Postal and Inspection Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury.
In total, arrests were made in five countries, including the United States. Roughly $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers were recovered and nearly $2.4 million was seized, according to the Justice Department.
All told, 29 individuals were arrested in Nigeria, and three were apprehended in Canada, Mauritius and Poland.
Federal authorities allege the individuals impersonated employees or business executives after gaining access to their email accounts, better known as a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scheme. Hackers initiate BEC scams by impersonating a business executive after gaining access to their email accounts. They then use the accounts to direct employees to transfer funds into bank accounts controlled by criminals.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to such schemes, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Fraudsters can rob people of their life’s savings in a matter of minutes,” Mr. Sessions said announcing the arrests. “These are malicious and morally repugnant crimes.”
Since January, law enforcement agents have targeted 51 domestic BEC scammers and seized assets totaling nearly $1 million, the Justice Department said.
Idris, who is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to prosecutors, was at the center of a western Pennsylvania based email scam and been arrested by authorities in Nigeria, according to U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady.
According to Brady, Idris was arrested after he and four others conspired to launder over $411,000 in real estate proceeds they had obtained using a business email compromise scheme. According to court documents, a Maryland based real estate settlement company was fraudulently instructed by Idris to send sale proceeds to a bank account set up in western Pennsylvania instead of to seller’s bank accounts.
Prosecutors say Idris, on April 29, 2016, sent false account information to the settlement company while claiming to represent a real estate seller. “Deception is at the heart of every business e-mail compromise or CEO impersonation scheme. Attackers gain access to a corporate e-mail account and then spoof the owner’s identity to defraud the company or its employees, customer or partners of money,” Brady said in a release. “We are committed to identifying and prosecuting anyone who uses the internet to financially exploit western Pennsylvania businesses and citizens.”
Four other men involved, Ismail Shittu, Nathanael Nyamekye, Adnan Ibrahim, and Akintayo Bolorunduro, have also been charged.
Shitu, Ibrahim, and Bolorunduro have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering charges. Bolorunduro was sentenced to over five years in prison, Shitu and Ibrahim are scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 15. Nyamekye has a trial scheduled for September.
According to investigators, businesses can avoid becoming victims by applying some due diligence. “These types of schemes are constantly evolving as criminals become more sophisticated in targeting their victims,” Chad Yarbrough, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Pittsburgh FBI field office, said in a release. “The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to verify the authenticity of requests before they are carried out.”