DOJ busts online scammers

he Department of Justice on Thursday unsealed a 252-count federal indictment charging 80 defendants, many of whom are Nigerian nationals, with conspiring to steal millions of dollars through online scams.

The indictment was unsealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and was made public shortly after authorities arrested 14 of the defendants across the United States, with 11 of these defendants apprehended in the Los Angeles region. The majority of the defendants are outside the country, with many likely in Nigeria.

The defendants involved in the case were charged with attempting to defraud individuals of millions of dollars through the use of business email compromise (BEC) and online romance scams, in addition to other schemes meant to target the elderly.

The investigation is being led by the FBI, with each of the defendants charged with “conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft,” according to the Justice Department. Some defendants also face fraud and money laundering charges.

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna described the scams used by the defendants during a press conference on Thursday, saying that “fraud networks now target individuals and businesses alike.”

“In the BEC scams, the fraudsters will often hack a company’s email system, impersonate company personnel, and direct payments to bank accounts that funnel money back to the fraudsters in Nigeria,” Hanna said. “In the romance scams, victims think they are developing a dating relationship, when in fact they are just being tricked into sending money to the fraudsters.”

Hanna added that “we believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history.”

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