Nigerian Cyberscammers Caught With $40M After Bragging On Instagram, Extradited To U.S.
He flashed his wealth — luxury cars, cash, Gucci clothes. He told his followers on Instagram that he was a multi-millionaire. Turns out, Nigerian citizen Olalekan Jacob Ponle was an international cyber scam artist. Now he’s been arrested and extradited to the U.S., where many of his victims were located.
“Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you’ve acquired,” Ponle posted on Instagram while standing next to a shiny yellow Lamborghini in Dubai and wearing designer jewelry and Gucci clothes from head to toe.
Ponle, who goes by the name “mrwoodbery” on Instagram, was arrested by the Dubai Police for alleged money laundering and cyber fraud. The FBI had him extradited to Chicago.
He was part of a ring of Nigerian scammers that included dozens of Africans nabbed in the operation. Another was 37-year-old Ramon Olorunwa Abbas — “hushpuppi” or just “hush,” as he was known by his 2.4 million Instagram followers. He claimed to be a real estate developer. He too was arrested and extradited.
In all, police say they recovered $40 million in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, 21 computers, 47 smartphones, and the addresses of nearly 2 million alleged victims, BBC reported.
Ponle and Abbas were both charged in a Chicago court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars obtained from cybercrimes.
“I think there’s probably a certain arrogance when they believe they’ve been careful about maintaining anonymity in their online identities, but they live high on the hog and get careless on social media,” said Glen Donath, a former senior prosecutor in the U.S. The Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC, in a BBC interview.
The two men unabashedly flaunted their high-flying lifestyle on social media and this raised questions about the sources of their wealth.
“They are accused of impersonating legitimate employees of various U.S. companies in ‘business email compromise’ (BEC) schemes and tricking the recipients into wiring millions of dollars into their own accounts,” BBC reported.
In one case, authorities found that a foreign financial institution allegedly lost $14.7 million in a cyber-heist where the money was deposited in hushpuppy’s bank accounts in multiple countries. An affidavit claimed that hushpuppy was involved in a scheme to steal $124 million from an unnamed English Premier League soccer team.
Abbas and two co-conspirators also allegedly defrauded a law firm in New York state.
The firm had to wire more than $900,000 on behalf of a client who was closing a real estate deal. The scam artists tricked a paralegal into sending an email to a fake address supposedly belonging to Citizens Bank. The fraudsters responded by faxing instructions for wiring cash to a bank account they controlled. A law firm employee tried to “confirm” the instructions by calling the phone number on the form — but that number was controlled by the scammers. By the time the law firm noticed the funds hadn’t been deposited into the intended destination account, it was too late to get retrieve the money, ARS Technica reported.
The pair were easier to find than most scammers. They left a public cyber trail. Hushpuppi, for example, renewed his lease for another year at the exclusive Palazzo Versace apartments in Dubai under his real name and phone number.
“Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said in an affidavit.
According to the criminal complaint, BEC frauds often involve hackers gaining unauthorized access to a business’s email account, blocking or redirecting communications to and/or from that email account, and then using the compromised email account, or a spoofed email account, to communicate with targeted employees, Naked Security reported.
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The Nigerian scammers attempt to get a targeted company’s employees into placing unauthorized wire transfers to accounts they control – often, with assistance from money mules. Then, the scammers may launder the money by wiring or transferring it through numerous bank accounts, or by quickly withdrawing it.
The pair could face up to 20 years behind bars.