A Nigerian gang member has been sentenced to four years in an American jail for taking part in online scams that targeted US citizens and banks that could have caused up to $1 million in losses to victims.
Solomon Ekunke Okpe, 31, of Lagos, was handed the prison term after being extradited from Malaysia, where he was arrested, to the US to stand trial.
Okpe and his accomplices “devised and executed business email compromise (BEC), work-from-home, check-cashing, romance, and credit card scams” between 2011 and 2017, said the US Department of Justice (DoJ), announcing the sentence.
Targeted victims included individuals, banks, and businesses in the US and other countries, who were subjected to email phishing attacks aimed at stealing login credentials and “other sensitive information.”
The DoJ described the scams as “intended to cause more than $1 million in losses to US victims” although it is not clear if this nefarious goal was achieved by the cyber-fraud gang.
In addition, Okpe and his fellow crooks “hacked into victim online accounts, impersonated people, and assumed fake identities to defraud individuals, banks, and businesses, and trafficked, possessed, and used stolen credit cards in furtherance of the scheme.”
The impostors then tricked banks and other organizations into “making unauthorized wire transfers to bank accounts specified by the co-conspirators.”
The DoJ added: “The co-conspirators also falsely posed as online employers on job websites and forums and purported to ‘hire’ individuals in Arizona and elsewhere to positions that were marketed as legitimate.”
These victims in fact became dupes who were manipulated into supporting Okpe’s gang in their criminal activities, although at the time they believed they were merely carrying out legal work duties.
“Some of these tasks included creating bank and payment processing accounts, transferring/withdrawing money from these accounts, or cashing/depositing counterfeit checks,” said the DoJ.
Another favored tactic of Okpe and his accomplices was the tried-and-tested “romance scam” in which the culprits pretended to be looking for love on the internet to hoodwink further victims out of their money and solicit their help in moving around cash stolen in other crimes.
They did this “by creating accounts on dating websites, feigning interest in romantic relationships with individuals under fictitious identities, and causing these victims to transfer their money overseas or receive money from wire-transfer scams.”
The DoJ added that some of Okpe’s victims in these scams lost tens of thousands of dollars.
Okpe now joins his fellow gang member Johnson Uke Obogo behind bars, although he will likely only have the latter’s company for a fraction of his own sentence. Obogo was sentenced on March 20 to a year and a day in prison for his role in the scams, a considerably shorter tariff than Okpe’s.
Financial institutions named by the DoJ as victims include “First American Holding Company and MidFirst Bank.”
The detail is intriguing, as the department does not usually specify victims in such cases. Also, it is unclear if the first company mentioned by the DoJ exists under that precise name or whether the department referred to it as such in error. Cybernews was unable to clarify this before going to press.
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