department of justice

Justice Department Indicts 80 People in Massive Online Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme

Two Nigerian citizens are accused of leading a massive fraud scheme that transferred at least $6 million in fraudulently-obtained funds, much of whom was taken from elderly people.

After a years-long investigation, 80 people in the United States and Nigeria have been charged with participating in a “massive conspiracy through a variety of fraud schemes,” including business email compromise (BEC) fraud, romance scams and schemes targeting the elderly, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Law enforcement had already made several arrests in the case as of Thursday, when the indictment was unsealed. Eleven arrests were made in the Los Angeles region on Thursday morning, while two others were already in federal custody and another person arrested earlier in the week. The remaining defendants are believed to be abroad, with most of them in Nigeria, the department said in a press release.

“Today, we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement on Thursday. “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.”

Read more: Business-Targeted Email Fraud Sees Huge Increase

Two Nigerian citizens accused of facilitating the bank and money-service accounts to transfer funds were named in the release: Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, both of whom lived in California. Once the people involved in the fraud scheme convinced victims to send money under false pretenses, the pair coordinated the receipt of funds and “oversaw an extensive money-laundering network,” the department said.

The indictment and criminal complaint allege that Iro and Igbokwe -- both of whom were arrested on Thursday -- transferred at least $6 million fraudulently-obtained funds and attempted to steal an additional $40 million.

“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,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge at the FBI’s Los Angeles office, in a statement. “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 has previously warned of the rise of business email compromise attacks, which target email accounts of executives and finance employees who are involved with wire transfer payments. This often happens through phishing emails that require the recipient to click a link.

Each defendant in the indictment was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft. Several of the people also face fraud and money laundering charges, according to the complaint.

The indictment detailed how Iro and Igbokwe allegedly coordinated the transfer of victims’ funds from a fraudulent bank account they controlled to American bank accounts belonging to criminal money exchangers. The exchangers used a Nigerian banking application to transfer funds from their own accounts to Nigerian accounts specified by Iro and Igbokwe.

“This method was used to transfer millions of dollars to Nigerian co-conspirators without directly transferring funds overseas,” the department said.

Victims of the fraud spanned the globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law firms. Some victims lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, including many elderly people, according to the indictment.

"We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history," Hanna said at a press conference on Thursday.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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