The US sentenced Elvis Eghosa Ogiekpolor, a leader of a gang behind an online scam worth $9.5 million, to 25 years in federal prison.
Ogiekpolor has been sentenced to spend a quarter of a century behind bars for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Georgia-based Ogiekpolor was behind 50 bank accounts that received nearly $10M from multiple online scams, such as romance fraud and business email compromise (BEC) scams.
“Ogiekpolor and his co-conspirators were part of a broader international network of online fraudsters and money launderers who wreaked havoc and devastation on unsuspecting individuals and businesses,” US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan was quoted in a DoJ statement.
US authorities claim that the culprit started the operation in 2018 and continued until 2020. In those two years, the scam had eight ‘money-mules’ Ogiekpolor directed, some of whom testified against him in court.
The scheme was fairly simple, as Ogiekpolor would instruct his subordinates to open new bank accounts once financial institutions were getting suspicious about a possible scam operating under their nose. Scammers used these bank accounts to hold and launder the proceeds criminals made from romance and BEC scams.
The DoJ claims that Ogiekpolor’s romance fraud would target vulnerable individuals who possess significant financial assets. Scammers would instruct victims to wire funds directly to their accounts or would ask to mail checks.
Scammers would first convince victims they’re in a romantic relationship and declare they want to start a life together. Once the victims agreed, scammers would quickly invent a problem they needed assistance to fix in order to begin living together.
“[…] victim testified that she was convinced to send nearly $70,000 because the man she met on eHarmony claimed to need money to promptly make payment on several invoices due to a frozen bank account,” the statement read.
FBI data shows that romance scams are second only to business email compromise and email account compromise (BEC/EAC) attacks in terms of financial loss. Victims of romance fraud in the US lost over $475 million in 2019 alone.
On average, individual loss in a romance scam stands at $2,600, and victims repeatedly send money. People aged 40 to 69 are among the most susceptible to romance scams, which strongly correlates with an increased sense of loneliness in the age group.
Threat actors target victims through popular dating apps, such as Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr. Often, scammers use dating sites and apps to social engineer victims into installing fake cryptocurrency apps.
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