The USA's Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) on Thursday, 22 August 2019, held a press conference to announce the arrest of 80 people, most of whom are Nigerian nationals, in connection to what they said is a "Nigerian money scam." The FBI explained that the indictment details 252 counts of a "massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes."

Although people from other countries were involved in the syndicate, the majority of those charged were Nigerian nationals residing in the USA and in Nigeria.

“This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon American citizens and businesses. Today, we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims. This indictment sends a message that we will identify perpetrators – no matter where they reside – and we will cut off the flow of ill-gotten gains,” said Nick Hanna, United States Attorney.

Photos of some of the ones already arrested. Source: ABC

Business e-mail compromise scam

The FBI, as detaled in the indictment document, alleges that the 80 suspects and others used various online fraud schemes – including business e-mail compromise (BEC) frauds which are similar to the one used by recently arrested Obinwanne Okeke who was once on the 2016 Forbes 30 under 30 list. Added to using BEC scams, the alleged culprits are reported to have also used romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.

"According to a criminal complaint also unsealed today, co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United States and other countries contacted the lead defendants in the indictment – Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens – for bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims. Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under false pretenses, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and oversaw an extensive money-laundering network, according to the 145-page indictment," reads a statement by the USA's Justice Department.

The main suspects and "brokers" of the syndicate are alleged by the FBI to be "Iro" and Igbokwe, who were among those arrested this morningon the morning of 22 August 2019. The two are said to have been involved in schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently-obtained funds – and the overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.

Bad week for Nigeria's "fraud" narrative

As mentioned, the news of the FBI's charges and arrests related to what they called a "Nigerian money scam" come several days after the FBI revealed at had arrested celebrated young Nigerian entrepreneur, Obinwanne Okeke, for defrauding Unatrac Holdings Limited off $12 million using phishing e-mail and illegal access to the company CFO's e-mail account.

The other news this week that have attempted to paint Nigeria in a bad way relates to JUMIA Group's second quarter financial results released on 21 August 2019. In the Q2 financial report JUMIA goes on to admit that there have been fraudulent sales transactions as well as fraudulent orders that would be placed but would be cancelled before being delivered.

Conspiracy to commit fraud

Each of the 80 defendants named in the indictment is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. A number of the defendants also face substantive fraud and money laundering charges.

Additionally, the FBI says that Iro, Igbokwe, Ikogho, Ogungbe and three other defendants –Izuchukwu Kingsley Umejesi, 30, of Los Angeles, Tityaye Marina Mansbangura, 33, of Palmdale, and Obi Madekwe, 31, of Nigeria – are charged with operating illegal money transmitting businesses.

“Today’s announcement highlights the extensive efforts that organized criminal groups will engage in to perpetrate BEC schemes that target American citizens and their hard-earned assets. Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims. The FBI is committed to working with our partner agencies worldwide to continue to identify these cyber criminals and to dismantle their networks,” said Paul Delacourt, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

As was the case with Okeke, the FBI has said that it will be tracking down others who were part of the syndicate around the world including Nigeria.

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