$8M cyber scammer gets eight years in US jail

A Nigerian national has been sentenced to eight years in a US prison by a federal court in Chicago after pleading guilty to a phishing campaign that stole millions from American businesses.

Jacob Ponle, 31, masterminded his social engineering scheme from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He worked with accomplices on numerous business email compromise scams aimed at hapless employees of targeted companies in 2019.

He and his cyber-gang used malicious phishing links to infiltrate email accounts and then used the latter to create “false instructions directing employees of the victim companies to wire money to bank accounts opened by money mules at Ponle’s direction,” said the US Department of Justice (DoJ), announcing the sentencing.

“The fraudulent emails often claimed to be from the company or a known business contact and were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account,” it added.

As a result, Ponle, aka “Mr Woodberry” and “Mark Kain,” was able to hoodwink US firms out of more than $8 million, which was passed on to his money-mule hirelings to convert into Bitcoin cryptocurrency. This was then sent back to him.

The DoJ says the victim companies were from states and cities all over the US, including Chicago, New York, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and California.

The sentencing judge also ordered Ponle to pay back all of his ill-gotten gains, as well as forfeit luxury items purchased with the stolen money, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan, Lamborghini Urus, Mercedes-Benz G-Class AMG G55, and Rolex and Patek Philippe watches.

Ponle was brought to justice with the help of local authorities in the UAE, who arrested Ponle in June 2020 before his extradition to the US to stand trial there.

After being taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Ponle decided to enter a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud earlier this year.

The DoJ did not make it clear in its statement whether Ponle’s co-conspirators had also been arrested, suggesting the criminal gang he ran might remain at large.

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