DOJ Indicts 80 Suspects, Many From Nigeria, For $10 Million Online Fraud, Money Laundering Scam

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Image: Blogtrepreneur/ Flickr

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 80 people and arrested 14 around the U.S. for conspiring for stealing $10 million in online scams.

Although that sounds like a lot of people going to jail, the scammers are winning. In the first seven months of 2019, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center got more than 14,000 complaints related to online scams, and victims lost almost $1.1 billion, The Hill reported. 

Most of the suspects in today’s announced money scam are outside the U.S. — likely in Nigeria — according to authorities who held a press conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. Eleven of the 14 arrests were made in the Los Angeles area, The Hill reported.

This indictment comes after Obinwanne Okeke, a Nigerian businessman named by Forbes as one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs, was arrested and charged with stealing $11 million from a U.K. company.

The suspects in today’s announcement are charged with trying to steal millions of dollars through BEC or business email compromise, online romance scams and other schemes targeting the elderly. Los Angeles’ ABC7 broke the news on the operation.

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They tried to steal $40 million from victims and got away with around $10 million, said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, during a press conference on Thursday.

The 145-page indictment includes more detail on email fraud than perhaps any other in recent memory, Cyberscoop reported.

Scammers rely on deception and hacking, sending emails designed to trick targets into giving up sensitive information such as employee W-2 tax documents, or tricking an employee into wiring money to bank accounts controlled by the scammers, Techcrunch reported. Often they impersonate a senior executive via email to trick the victim or hack the email account of the person they are impersonating.

The FBI says these impersonation attacks have cost consumers and businesses more than $3 billion since 2015.

There were at least 32 victims from the U.S., Japan, the U.K., Lebanon, Ukraine, China, Mexico, Germany, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Fraud, money laundering and identity theft are some of the charges in the case. Scammers targeted businesses and individuals, according to the investigation, which is being led by the FBI.

“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said.

The two main defendants in the case are Nigerian citizens living in California — Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe.

They collected bank account information, shared the information with co-conspirators and laundered money from victims, the DOJ said in a statement.

Six suspects are still at large in the U.S. and another 57 are expected to be arrested in nine countries, Delacourt said.

These arrests will hardly put a dent in the problem.

“This crime is growing exponentially in terms of losses and victims,” Delacourt said. “While we are happy to announce these charges today, we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem, and we so we continue to educate potential victims.”