United State security authorities announced today that ten countries have arrested 281 suspects over the last four months as part of a massive crackdown on BEC (business email compromise) scammers 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.
The vast majority of the arrests took place in Nigeria, where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made 167 arrests. 105 of the 167 arrests took place in the Port Harcourt region, in southern Nigeria.
According to an FBI report published earlier this year, US victims lost $1.3 billion in 2018 due to BEC scams, more than double what they lost in the previous year.
According to another FBI report published earlier today, the Bureau said victims from all over the world lost more than $26 billion to BEC scams between June 2016 and July 2019.
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. 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.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said, “The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens,”
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 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.”
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.
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.