Six Nigerians have been federally indicted in Nebraska, USA, and are being sought for their alleged involvement in elaborate schemes targeting business executives’ email addresses to get wire transfers and preying on others by masquerading as love interests.
The U.S. Treasury Department said that Americans lost more than $6 million because of these individuals’ schemes.
In a news release on Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the six are Richard Uzuh, Micheal Olorunyomi, Alex Ogunshakin, Felix Okpoh, Abiola Kayode and Nnamdi Benson.
According to unsealed indictments, between 2015 and Sept. 26, 2016, Uzuh and Adewale Aniyeloye allegedly spoofed email addresses, posing as real CEOs or other business executives, to direct employees to make wire transfers from business accounts.
Two unnamed companies in Nebraska together lost more than $530,000 before realizing it was a scam, prosecutors say.
In the documents, prosecutors allege Uzuh often would target more than 100 businesses in a day and got at least $6.3 million from American businesses that way.
In another scam, Olorunyomi and his co-conspirators are alleged to have made off with more than $1 million by creating fictitious profiles on dating websites and posing as someone looking for love.
Prosecutors say Olorunyomi developed online relationships with victims to either get money directly from them or use their bank accounts to funnel money that he’d gotten fraudulently.
Between just two Nebraska victims, Olorunyomi allegedly got $480,000 by pretending to be a love interest who needed help with a legitimate financial transaction.
Along with the six still sought, three others charged in the plot — Aniyeloye, Pelumi Fawehinmi and Onome Ijomone — already have entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Omaha and have been sentenced. Aniyeloye received eight years in federal prison for wire fraud; Fawehinmi got six years for conspiracy; and Ijomone got five years for conspiracy.
Each of the Nigerian men also was ordered to pay restitution ranging from $508,934 to $1.57 million.
U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly and Kristi K. Johnson, the FBI special agent in charge of the Omaha field office, said the sophisticated cyber crimes included individual victims and businesses both in Nebraska and other states and involved electronic-transfer payments or automated clearinghouse transfers.
The six face charges ranging from wire fraud and a conspiracy to commit it to identity theft and access device fraud. The charges carry possible punishments of up to 20 years and $250,000 fines.
The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control also has imposed financial sanctions on each of the six fugitives, meaning all property and interests in property held by them and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and others are blocked from engaging in financial transactions with them, according to a news release.
In the release, the Treasury Department called the move a coordinated action with the Department of Justice.
The scammers are accused of impersonating business executives to request wire transfers from legitimate business accounts and stealing money from innocent Americans by masquerading as affectionate partners to gain trust from their victims.
Officials say the six manipulated their victims in order to gain access to usernames, passwords and bank accounts and used social media and email to carry out the scams.
“Cybercriminals prey on vulnerable Americans and small businesses to deceive and defraud them,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a news release about the Nebraska charges. “As technological advancement increasingly offers malicious actors tools that can be used for online attacks and schemes, the United States will continue to protect and defend at-risk Americans and businesses.”
In Nebraska, Kelly thanked the efforts of the Omaha FBI and its Cyber Task Force and cautioned the public that every day victims fall prey to business email compromise (BEC) schemes, romance schemes, COVID-19 scams and any number of other opportune scams.
Johnson said the FBI is working every day to “disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens.”
“Today’s charges are another successful example of our commitment to working together with our foreign colleagues abroad and we’re sending a strong message to the criminals who perpetrate these BEC schemes. We will continue coming after you, no matter where you are. And to the public, we will keep doing everything we can to protect you,” she said.
Johnson asked anyone with information regarding the current whereabouts of the six fugitives to call law enforcement immediately.
The FBI investigated the case, and the law enforcement actions taken related to the prosecutions were assisted by the efforts of law enforcement counterparts from Nigeria.
Lincoln Journal Star
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