Instagram scammer pleads guilty to crypto fraud

A social media influencer who used his popularity to allay suspicion in a series of scams has pleaded guilty to conning victims out of $8 million, including payments in bitcoin, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced.

Jebara Igbara, better known by his Instagram alias of Jay Mazini, who enjoyed more than a million followers before his downfall, entered the guilty plea at a New York court on November 2. He now faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Igbara maintained his popular Instagram account until March last year – when he was charged with wire fraud and money laundering – using it to post videos that appeared to show him giving away large cash gifts.

In fact, these clips were simply bait to convince potential investors to ‘sell’ him their bitcoin funds in a follow-up fraud perpetrated on people he had already conned, the court found.

Igbara fraudulently claimed he would pay up to 5% above the market rate for the cryptocurrency, lying that exchanges were limiting the amount he could purchase. This was done to entice victims into parting with their digital savings – but the traditional money promised to them in return never arrived.

This was a secondary ‘support’ scam aimed to keep victims on the hook after they had already been taken in by an initial con that persuaded them they were investing in electronics and COVID-related equipment, said the DoJ.

To convince his victims he had paid them, Igbara would send doctored versions of wire transfer confirmations. In reality, the money they sent him ended up funding his lifestyle, which included a gambling habit.

“With today’s plea, the defendant has admitted to leveraging his Instagram popularity to prey upon innocent investors and steal at least $8 million of their hard-earned money,” said US Attorney Breon Peace.

The IRS, which helped the FBI to bring Igbara to justice, described his overlapping scams as a “Ponzi scheme” that aimed to prey on investors’ wishful thinking by offering grandiose promises of quick, substantial rewards.

“All the victims in this case were promised something that was too good to be true,” it said. “Those in the Ponzi scheme were all assured a high rate of return in a short amount of time, while the victims of the bitcoin advance-fee scheme were guaranteed above current market value for their bitcoin.”

It added: “Be skeptical of any investments with larger-than-life promises, because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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