Among other things, they broke into servers and email systems belonging to a Memphis-based real estate company. They then created fake emails to commit financial fraud.
The crime is called a “business email compromise scheme” or BCE. In each case, the scam is designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens. In the real estate industry, the scam is used to convince buyers to wire property payment money to a fake bank account owned by the scammers. Buyers often followed scammers’ instructions because they believed the email came from a trusted source, such as their Realtor or title company.
The latest arrests follow a June 11 arrest of 74 individuals involved in the same type of scam.
“The defendants allegedly unleashed a barrage of international fraud schemes that targeted U.S. businesses and individuals, robbing them to the tune of approximately $15 million,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our international partners to aggressively disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that victimize our citizens and businesses.”
Five individuals were arrested in the United States: Javier Luis Ramos Alonso, 28, a Mexican citizen residing in Seaside, California; James Dean, 65, of Plainfield, Indiana; Dana Brady, 61, of Auburn, Washington; Rashid Abdulai, 24, a Ghanaian citizen residing in the Bronx, New York, who has been charged in a separate indictment; and Olufolajimi Abegunde, 31, a Nigerian citizen residing in Atlanta, Georgia.
Maxwell Atugba Abayeta aka Maxwell Peter, 26, and Babatunde Martins, 62, of Ghana and Benard Emurhowhoariogho Okorhi, 39, a Nigerian citizen who resides in Ghana, have been arrested overseas and are pending extradition proceedings to face charges filed in the Western District of Tennessee.
The indictment also charges Sumaila Hardi Wumpini, 29; Dennis Miah, 34; Ayodeji Olumide Ojo, 35, and Victor Daniel Fortune Okorhi, 35, all of whom remain at large.
The indictment alleges that the Africa-based coconspirators committed, or caused to be committed, a series of intrusions into the servers and email systems of a Memphis-based real estate company in June and July 2016. Using sophisticated anonymization techniques – including the use of spoofed email addresses and Virtual Private Networks – the coconspirators identified large financial transactions, initiated fraudulent email correspondence with relevant business parties, and then redirected closing funds through a network of U.S.-based money mules to final destinations in Africa.
In addition to BEC, some of the Africa-based defendants are also charged with various romance scams, fraudulent-check scams, gold-buying scams, advance-fee scams and credit card scams.
The indictment alleges that the proceeds of these criminal activities, both money and goods, were shipped and/or transferred from the United States to locations in Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa through a complex network of both complicit and unwitting individuals that had been recruited through the various Internet scams.
Some of the defendants are also charged with concealing their conduct by stealing or fraudulently obtaining personal identification information (PII) and using that information to create fake online profiles and personas. Through all their various schemes, the defendants are believed to have caused millions in loss to victims across the globe.
An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.