Investigators in the United States of America including the FBI, have raided six members of a cyber fraud gang based in Ghana on charges of laundering over $50 million. All six arrested were described as ‘ringleaders’ and had perpetrated the crimes against US-based entities ranging from small businesses, elderly and single women as well as the United State government.
In a statement relayed by William F. Sweeney of the FBI, the scams were explained,
“The scams we allege in this investigation include romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromise scams, and even fraudulent Covid-19 relief loans.________________________________________________________________
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“In many of these and similar fraud cases, victims are reluctant to come forward because they fear embarrassment or reputational damage. Some may even believe the perpetrators are beyond our reach because they often live abroad. These arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are here to help you and bring these bands of criminals to justice.”
Six Defendants Arrested in Multiple States for Laundering Proceeds from Fraud Schemes Targeting Victims Across the United States Perpetrated by Ghana-Based Criminal Enterprise: Farouk Appiedu, Fred Asante, Celvin Freeman, Lord Aning, Sadick Edusei Kissi… https://t.co/HZODzDYubf
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) February 18, 2021
Farouk Appiedu, Fred Asante, Celvin Freeman, Lord Aning, Sadick Edusei Kissi, and Faisal Ali aka “Clarence Graveley”, will all be presented in court, with Freeman and Ali billed for a Manhattan federal court hearing later today after being arrested in New Jersey this morning. Asante and Aning were also arrested in on Thursday morning in Virginia and will be presented at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia. However, Appiedu and Kissi had long been in police custody following arrests in Queens, New York on October 18, 2020; and Fargo, North Dakota on February 5, 2020, respectively.
“The fraud schemes alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous. As alleged, they engaged in email spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded Coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefit of small businesses affected by the pandemic,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Audrey Strauss.
“Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons.”
The investigations uncovered that four of the culprits had 45 bank accounts under several aliases, with a total amount of $50 million dollars deposited in the seven years between 2013 and 2020.
To further indict the accused, a vast majority of the transfers were wired, while a significant other were transacted via cheque or cash-deposits from individuals, entities and possibly organisations based in US.
The gang described to as the “Enterprise” utilised e-mails and dating websites to trick women living alone and older women into “believing the victim was in a romantic relationship with a fake identity assumed by members”.
After establishing ground of trust with the victims, the fraudsters used false pretenses to cause the victims to wire money to their bank accounts.
In defrauding the government, the Enterprise submitted fraudulent loan applications under real company names through a loan program of the United States tagged Small Business Administration, designed to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside currencies, expensive assets were also seized with four especially luxurious vehicles believed to have been acquired from the fraudulent proceeds including a 2020 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG worth $156,450, a 2020 Bentley Continental GT worth $218,350 and two two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans worth a combined $654,000.
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen described the successful manhunt and arrests as “a death blow to the vast criminal activity” and pledged that the criminal unit will “continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”
Cyber-Fraud Taking Centre Stage In West Africa
Just over 24 hours ago, Nigerian entrepreneur, Obinwanna Okeke, also known as Invictus Obi, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for masterminding a cyber scam scheme which defrauded British export company, Unatrac Holding Limited, of $11 million.
The Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Raj Parekh, had authoritatively revealed the mode of operation of the accused,
“Through subterfuge and impersonation, Obinwanne Okeke, engaged in a multi-year global business email and computer hacking scheme that caused a staggering $11 million in losses to his victims.”
Prior to that, Nigerians had been rocked to a disreputable reality when self-proclaimed real estate developer, Hushpuppi, with an Instagram following of over 2.5 million, was arrested in UAE by a joint effort of Interpol, FBI and Dubai police for cyber crime. At the time of his arrest he had $40 million worth of cash in his possession.
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