Security Agents Arrest 281 ‘Yahoo-Yahoo Scammers’ Worldwide



The United States of America’s federal authorities have announced a
significant coordinated effort to disrupt Business Email Compromise
(BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers
from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens.

Operation reWired, a coordinated law enforcement effort by the U.S.
Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S.
Department of the Treasury, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S.
Department of State, was conducted over a four-month period, resulting
in 281 arrests in the United States and overseas, including 167 in
Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana.

Arrests were also made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and
the United Kingdom (UK). The operation also resulted in the seizure of
nearly $3.7 million.

BEC, also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud,” is a
sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company
finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses
that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The same criminal
organizations that perpetrate BEC also exploit individual victims, often
real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others, by convincing them to
make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.

According to the US government in a statement made available to
Nigerian Times Magazine on Wednesday, this is often accomplished by
impersonating a key employee or business partner after obtaining access
to that person’s email account or sometimes done through romance and
lottery scams. BEC scams may involve fraudulent requests for checks
rather than wire transfers; they may target sensitive information such
as personally identifiable information (PII) or employee tax records
instead of, or in addition to, money; and they may not involve an actual
“compromise” of an email account or computer network. Foreign citizens
perpetrate many BEC scams. Those individuals are often members of
transnational criminal organizations, which originated in Nigeria but
have spread throughout the world.

“The Department of Justice has increased efforts in taking aggressive
enforcement action against fraudsters who are targeting American
citizens and their businesses in business email compromise schemes and
other cyber-enabled financial crimes,” said Deputy Attorney General
Jeffrey Rosen.

“In this latest four-month operation, we have arrested 74 people in
the United States and 207 others have been arrested overseas for alleged
financial fraud. The coordinated efforts with our domestic and
international law enforcement partners around the world have made these
most recent actions more successful. I want to thank the FBI, more than
two dozen U.S. Attorney’s Offices, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal
Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal
Investigation, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service,
our partners in Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya,
Malaysia, and the UK, and our state and local law enforcement partners
for all of their hard work to combat these fraud schemes and protect the
hard-earned assets of our citizens.

“Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”

“The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal
enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens,” said FBI
Director Christopher A. Wray. “Cooperation is the backbone to effective
law enforcement; without it, we aren’t as strong or as agile as we need
to be. Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the
criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after
you, no matter where you are. And to the public, we’ll keep doing
whatever we can to protect you. Reporting incidents of BEC and other
internet-enabled crimes to the IC3 brings us one step closer to the
perpetrators.”

“The Secret Service has taken a multi-layered approach to combat
Business Email Compromise schemes through our Global Investigative
Operations Center (GIOC),” said U.S. Secret Service Director James M.
Murray. “Domestically, the GIOC assists Secret Service Field Offices
and other law enforcement partners with analysis and investigative
tactics to enhance the impact of local BEC investigations.
Internationally, the GIOC targets and identifies transnational organized
crime networks that perpetrate these cyber-enabled financial fraud
schemes. Through this approach, the Secret Service continues to strive
to protect the citizens of the United States and our financial
infrastructure from these complex crimes.”

“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), together with its law
enforcement partners, has proven once again, that cyber-enabled
financial fraud will not be tolerated in the United States,” said Acting
Director Matthew T. Albence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE). “Operation reWired sends a clear message to criminals, that no
matter how or where crimes are committed, we will do everything within
our means to dismantle criminal enterprises that seek to manipulate U.S.
institutions and taxpayers.”

“The consequences of this type of fraud scheme are far-reaching,
affecting not only people in the United States but also across the
world,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale. “This investigation
is just another example of how effective law enforcement agencies can
be when they join forces. By working together, we can keep our
communities and our vulnerable populations safe from financial
exploitation. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is proud to be at the
forefront of the fight against fraud and Postal Inspectors will continue
to adapt to the ever-changing landscape to stop the scammers and
protect our customers.”

“In unraveling this complex, nationwide identity theft and tax fraud
scheme, we discovered that the conspirators stole more than 250,000
identities and filed more than 10,000 fraudulent tax returns, attempting
to receive more than $91 million in refunds,” said Chief Don Fort of
IRS Criminal Investigation. “We will continue to work with our
international, federal and state partners to pursue all those
responsible for perpetrating this fraud, preying on innocent victims and
attempting to cheat the U.S. out of millions of dollars.”

“The investigation of these crimes crossed international borders,”
said Director Todd J. Brown of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic
Security Service (DSS). “Today’s charges are another successful
example of our commitment to working together with both
foreign colleagues abroad as well as local, state and federal law
enforcement partners here at home in the pursuit of those who commit
cyber-related financial crimes.”

A number of cases involved international criminal organizations that
defrauded small to large-sized businesses, while others involved
individual victims who transferred high dollar funds or sensitive
records in the course of business. The devastating effects these cases
have on victims and victim companies affect not only the individual
business but also the global economy. According to the Internet Crime
Complaint Center (IC3), nearly $1.3 billion in loss was reported in 2018
from BEC and its variant, Email Account Compromise (EAC), nearly twice
as much as was reported the prior year. BEC and EAC are prevalent scams
and the Justice Department along with our partners will continue to
aggressively pursue and prosecute the perpetrators, including money
mules, regardless of where they are located.

Money mules may be witting or unwitting accomplices who receive
ill-gotten funds from the victims and then transfer the funds as
directed by the fraudsters. The money is wired or sent by check to the
money mule who then deposits it in his or her own bank account.
Usually, the mules keep a fraction for “their trouble” and then wire the
money as directed by the fraudster. The fraudsters enlist and
manipulate the money mules through romance scams or “work-at-home”
scams, though some money mules are knowing co-conspirators who launder
the ill-gotten gains for profit.

BEC scams are related to, and often conducted together with, other forms of fraud such as:

“Romance scams,” where victims are lulled into believing they are in a
legitimate relationship and are tricked into sending or laundering
money under the guise of assisting the paramour with an international
business transaction, a U.S. visit, or some other cover story;
“Employment
opportunities scams,” where victims are convinced to provide their PII
to apply for work-from-home jobs, and, once “hired” and “overpaid” by a
bad check, to wire the overpayment to the “employer’s” bank before the
check bounces;
“Fraudulent online vehicle sales scams,” where victims
are convinced they are purchasing a nonexistent vehicle and must pay
for it by sending the codes of prepaid gift cards in the amount of the
agreed-upon sale price to the “seller;”
“Rental scams,” where a
scammer agrees to rent a property, sends a bad check in excess of the
agreed-upon deposit, and requests the overpayment be returned via wire
before the check bounces; and
“Lottery scams,” where victims are
convinced they won an international lottery but must pay fees or taxes
before receiving the payout.

Starting in May 2019, this coordinated enforcement action targeted
hundreds of BEC scammers. Law enforcement agents executed over 214
domestic actions including arrests, money mule warning letters, and
asset seizures and repatriations totaling nearly $3.7 million. Local
and state law enforcement partners on FBI task forces across the
country, with the assistance of multiple District Attorney’s Offices,
also arrested alleged money mules for their role in defrauding victims.

Among those arrested on federal charges in BEC schemes include:

Following an investigation led by the FBI’s Chicago Division,
Brittney Stokes, 27, of Country Club Hills, Illinois, and Kenneth
Ninalowo, 40, of Chicago, Illinois, were charged in the Northern
District of Illinois with laundering over $1.5 million from proceeds of
BEC scams. According to the indictment, a community college and an
energy company were defrauded into sending approximately $5 million to
fraudulent bank accounts controlled by the scammers. Banks were able to
freeze approximately $3.6 million of the $5 million defrauded in the
two schemes. Law enforcement officials seized a 2019 Range Rover Velar S
from Stokes and approximately $175,909 from Stokes and Ninalowo.
As
a result of a joint investigation by the FBI, HSI, and DSS, Opeyemi
Adeoso, 44, of Dallas, Texas, and Benjamin Ifebajo, 45, of Richardson,
Texas, were arrested and charged in the Northern District of Texas with
bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. Adeoso and
Ifebajo are alleged to have received and laundered at least $3.4
million. In furtherance of their scheme, they are alleged to have
assumed 12 fictitious identities and defrauded 37 victims from across
the United States.
As part of a larger investigation by the FBI and
the USSS in Miami, Yamel Guevara Tamayo, 36, of Miami, Florida, and
Yumeydi Govantes, 39, of Miami, Florida, were charged in the Southern
District of Florida with laundering more than $950,000 of proceeds of
BEC scams. The two individuals were also responsible for recruiting
approximately 18 other individuals to serve as money mules, who
laundered proceeds of BEC scams for an international money laundering
network. The victims of the BEC scams included title companies,
corporations, and individuals. The individuals were indicted June 18,
2019 and arrested June 20, 2019. The change of plea for both
individuals is scheduled for Sept. 16.
In an investigation by FBI
Atlanta, two individuals were charged in the Northern District of
Georgia for their involvement in a Nigeria-based BEC scheme that began
with a $3.5 million transfer of funds fraudulently misdirected from a
Georgia-based health care provider to accounts across the United
States. Two Nigerian nationals, Emmanuel Igomu, 35, of Atlanta,
Georgia, and Jude Balogun, 29, of San Francisco, California, have been
arrested on charges of aiding and abetting wire fraud for their part in
receiving and transmitting monies derived from the BEC.
Following an
investigation by the FBI, Cyril Ashu, 34, of Austell, Georgia; Ifeanyi
Eke, 32, of Sandy Springs, Georgia; Joshua Ikejimba, 24, of Houston,
Texas; and Chinedu Ironuah, 32, of Houston, Texas, were charged in the
Southern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit
wire fraud and one count of wire fraud for their involvement in a
Nigeria-based BEC scheme that impacted hundreds of victims in the United
States, with losses in excess of $10 million.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed
innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of
law.

The cases were investigated by the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S.
Postal Inspection Service, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI),
IRS Criminal Investigation and U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic
Security Service. U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Districts of Arizona;
Central, Eastern and Southern California; Colorado; Delaware; Southern
Florida; Northern Georgia; Northern Illinois; Kansas; Eastern Louisiana;
Massachusetts; Nebraska; Nevada; Southern New York; Middle North
Carolina; Northern Ohio; Oregon; Northern, Western and Southern Texas;
Western Tennessee; Eastern Virginia; Eastern Washington, and elsewhere
have ongoing investigations some of which have resulted in arrests in
Nigeria.

The Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property
Section, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and Office of
International Affairs of the Criminal Division provided assistance.
District Attorney’s Offices of Harris County, Texas; Fort Bend County,
Texas; and Washington County, Arkansas are handling state prosecutions.
Additionally, private sector partners and the Nigerian Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission, Ghana Police Service (GPS) and Economic and
Organized Crime Office (EOCO), Turkish National Police (TNP) Cyber
Department, Direction Centrale de la Police aux Frontieres (PAF) of
France, Squadra Mobile Di Caserta and Italian National Police, National
Police Agency of Japan, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TPMD),
Royal Malaysian Police, Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) of
Kenya and the National Crime Agency (NCA), North Wales Police,
Metropolitan Police Service and Hertfordshire Constabulary of the UK
provided significant assistance.

This operation serves as a model for international cooperation
against specific threats that endanger the financial well-being of each
member country’s residents. Deputy Attorney General Rosen expressed
gratitude for the outstanding efforts of the participating countries,
including law enforcement actions that were coordinated and executed by
the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria to curb
business email compromise schemes that defraud businesses and
individuals alike.

The Justice Department’s efforts to confront the growing threat of
cyber-enabled financial fraud led to the formation of the BEC
Counteraction Group (BCG), which assists U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the
Department with the coordination of BEC cases and the centralization of
related expertise. The BCG facilitates communication and coordination
between federal prosecutors, serves as a bridge between federal
prosecutors and federal agents, centralizes and manages institutional
knowledge and training, and participates in efforts to educate the
public about protecting themselves and their organizations from BEC
scams.

The BCG draws upon the expertise of the following sections within the
Department’s Criminal Division: the Computer Crime and Intellectual
Property Section, which regularly investigates and prosecutes cases
involving computer crimes, including network intrusions; the Fraud
Section, which manages complex litigation involving sophisticated fraud
schemes; the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, which brings
experience in seizing assets obtained through criminal activity; the
Office of International Affairs, which plays a central role in securing
international evidence and extradition; and the Organized Crime and Gang
Section, which contributes strategic guidance in prosecuting complex
transnational criminal cases.

Operation reWired was funded and coordinated by the FBI and the
Justice Department’s International Organized Crime Intelligence and
Operations Center (IOC-2) and follows “Operation Wire Wire,” the first
coordinated enforcement action targeting hundreds of BEC scammers. That
effort, announced in June 2018, resulted in the arrest of 74
individuals, the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and
recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.

Victims are encouraged to file a complaint online with the IC3 at bec.ic3.gov.

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Published by Arewa Times Magazine

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