The United States Department of Justice Thursday named 80 persons, many of whom are Nigerian nationals, whom it said conspired to steal millions of dollars from Americans and American businesses through online scams.
In the 252-count federal indictment statement, at least 77 of the persons were of Nigerian origin.
The US federal prosecutors says all of the 80 persons will face charges of attempting to defraud individuals of millions of dollars through the use of business email compromise (BEC), online romance scams, in addition to other schemes meant to target the elderly.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said 14 of the suspected fraudsters have been arrested across the United States, with 11 of these defendants apprehended in the Los Angeles region.
The remaining defendants are believed to be abroad, most of them in Nigeria, authorities said.
“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,” said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
According to the indictment statement, the co-conspirators allegedly contacted 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.
“These victims are used primarily as money mules, by allowing their bank accounts to be used to transfer stolen funds,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt.
“Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under false pretences, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and oversaw an extensive money-laundering network,” the indictment statement states.
The criminal complaint says Iro and Igbokwe, who were among the suspects arrested Thursday, conducted schemes that resulted in the transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds.
“The overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least $40 million,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
This coming days after a celebrated Nigerian entrepreneur and a Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 honoree Obinwanne Okeke was arraigned in an American court on August 9 on charges of computer and wire fraud.
United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation said Okeke and at least six other persons were involved in the crimes.
“There is a probable cause to believe Okeke has conspired with several individuals to access computers without authorisation, and using such access to cause the fraudulent wire transfer of funds,” FBI’s special agent Marshall Ward said in an affidavit he deposed to before Justice Lawrence Leonard, in Norfolk, Virginia, on August 2.