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Eighty Charged in Massive Online Fraud Scheme

​A U.S. federal grand jury unsealed a 252-count indictment that provides insights into a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through online fraud schemes and launder those funds in the United States.

The indictment​ lists charges against 80 individuals, 14 of whom where arrested in the United States on Thursday morning. Three other defendants were previously arrested, and the remaining defendants are believed to be at large abroad—mostly in Nigeria, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

“The indictment alleges that the 80 defendants and others used various online fraud schemes—including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly—to defraud victims out of millions of dollars,” the DOJ said in a press release. “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.”

Iro and Igbokwe were allegedly involved in schemes that fraudulently transferred at least $6 million; the overall conspiracy attempted to steal at least an additional $40 million. Many of the victims worked for large and small businesses, including law firms, and were elderly.

“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 Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “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.”

BECs continue to be a lucrative attack method for fraudsters. Verizon found in its 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report that executives are being targeted through a variety of attacks, including BECs, and that stressful work environments may be helping them succeed.

“The increasing success of social attacks, such as business email compromises (which represent 370 incidents or 248 confirmed breaches of those analyzed), can be linked to the unhealthy combination of a stressful business environment combined with a lack of focused education on the risks of cybercrime,” according to the report which was analyzed in Security Management’s August issue.

The industries that saw the largest increase in this type of activity were professional services, including law offices and consulting partners.