Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara, a Nigerian who was extradited from South Africa to the United States of America for being involved in business e-mail scams, was sentenced on 11 September 2018 to 5 years in a USA prison. The judgement was handed down in a Manhattan federal court as a result of Opara's involvement in what the judge called "fraudulent business e-mail compromise scams", otherwise known as 419 or Nigerian Prince scams, that targeted thousands of victims in the USA and around the world.

Opara was initially arrested 22 December 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa before being extradited to New York. The FBI was able to extradite Opara from South Africa because some of his victims are citizens of the USA.

"From halfway around the world, Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara ran a global e-mail scam business that victimized thousands of people out of millions of dollars.  The global reach of our Office and the FBI ensured that Opara will serve time in the United States for his crimes," said Geoffrey S. Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Fake dating profiles

One of the ways that Opara and his colleagues defrauded and targeted people to what the Attorney General's Office has said to be an amount of approximately $25 million, was through creating fake profiles on dating platforms and apps.

""From halfway around the world, Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara ran a global e-mail scam business that victimized thousands of people out of millions of dollars."Geoffrey S. Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York

During the proceedings, Opara and his co-defendant, David Chukwuneke Adindu, pled guilty to having participated in multiple business email compromise (“BEC”) scams that targeted thousands of victims around the world, including in the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Singapore. According to statements made by Opara and Adindu, they sent fake e-mails to employees of the victim companies directing that funds be transferred to specified bank accounts.  The e-mails claimed to be from supervisors at those companies or from third party vendors with whom the companies did business.  However, the truth was that the e-mails were either sent from e-mail accounts with domain names very similar to those of the companies and vendors, or the metadata for the emails was modified to make it appear as if the emails had been sent from legitimate e-mail addresses.  After victims transferred the funds as directed in the bogus e-mails, the funds were quickly withdrawn or transferred to other bank accounts controlled by scheme participants.  In total, the scam participants attempted to steal more than $25 million from victims around the world.

Added to the fake e-mails,  Opara confessed to having created accounts on dating websites and entering into online relationships and portraying himself as a young attractive woman named Barbara.

"Barbara would then instruct these individuals in the United States to send their money overseas and/or to receive money from BEC scams and forward the proceeds to other scheme participants located overseas.  For example, one victim with whom Opara struck up a romantic relationship sent over $600,000 of the victim’s own money to bank accounts controlled by scheme participants at Opara’s direction.  Opara also attempted to recruit at least 14 other individuals via dating websites to receive funds from BEC scams into their bank accounts and then transfer the proceeds to overseas bank accounts."

Nigerian Prince scams

Despite many warnings and some very telling signs, to this day, many people continue becoming victims of scams like the one Opara and Adindu ran or others knows as 419 or Nigerian Prince scams. The latter are a variation of advanced fee scams where typically a huge amount of money is promised to a victim should they make a deposit first to "help release the funds."

According to Frank T. McAndrew, a Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College, we continue to be duped by Nigerian Prince scams because we are eager and overconfident. It's also important to note that it is not only Nigerian nationals that carry out these scams, in one case, a 67 year old USA citizen man  living in Louisiana was arrested for being the middle-man of many such scams. As the Louisiana's Slidell Police Department's Financial Crimes Division stated in early 2018, "[Michael] Neu is suspected to have been the “middle man”, and participated in hundreds of financial transactions, involving phone and internet scams, designed to con money from victims across the United States. Some of the money obtained by Neu was subsequently wired to co-conspirators in the Country of Nigeria."

In handing down judgement, Berman also praised South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority for the role it played in the investigation, arrest, and extradition of Opara.


Cover image credit: Manhattan Federal Court. Wikipedia