The United States' Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned six Nigerians for alleged involvement in online scams worth over N2.1 billion ($6 million).
In a statement released on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, the department listed the accused as Richard Uzuh, Micheal Olorunyomi, Alex Ogunshakin, Felix Okpoh, Nnamdi Benson, and Abiola Kayode.
While also announcing the unsealing of indictments on Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Nebraska, said all six have been charged.
The accused are all at large and believed to currently reside in Nigeria.
The U.S. Attorney's statement noted that two related defendants have entered guilty pleas.
A certain Adewale Aniyeloye was sentenced in the District of Nebraska to 96 months' imprisonment for wire fraud while one Onome Ijomone received a 60-month sentence for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The U.S. Attorney's office said the indictments charged the six with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000; and identity theft, and access device fraud, each punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment, and a fine of up to $250,000.
"If the public has any information regarding the current whereabouts of the six fugitives please call law enforcement immediately," the U.S. Attorney's office appealed.
How accused allegedly committed scams
The accused individuals allegedly targeted U.S. businesses and individuals through deceptive global threats known as business email compromise (BEC), and romance fraud.
The treasury department alleged that Uzuh's scams started from around early 2015.
He allegedly obtained a list of contact information for employees at U.S. companies, and, together with co-conspirators, sent spoofed emails to the companies impersonating executives.
The 34-year-old would then request the targeted companies send urgent wire transfers for purportedly legitimate expenses, which were then often sent to accounts held by other parties.
He reportedly would often target over 100 businesses a day with such fraudulent emails.
"A loss in excess of $6,300,000 can be attributed to the BEC scheme led by Uzuh and an accomplice," OFAC said.
Olorunyomi was accused of leading a scheme to victimise Americans through the use of romance fraud between September 2015 and June 2017.
The 37-year-old and his co-conspirators created fictitious profiles on dating websites and posed as individuals looking for love.
"He developed online relationships with victims to either obtain funds directly from victims, or used their bank accounts to funnel fraudulently obtained money.
"Losses exceeding $1,000,000 can be attributed to the romance fraud scheme led by Olorunyomi and his accomplice," authorities said.
Ogunsakin, 37, allegedly provided Uzuh and other co-conspirators with bank accounts that were used to receive fraudulent wire transfers; helped Uzuh to contact victims companies; and also ran his own BEC schemes.
31-year-old Okpoh similarly worked closely with Uzuh, engaging in money laundering, and providing hundreds of U.S. bank accounts that were used to receive fraudulent wire transfers from victims of BEC and romance fraud.
Benson, 33, did the same, allegedly communicating with multiple romance fraud victims to obtain their bank account details, and providing the account information to Uzuh to receive fraudulent wire transfers from U.S. businesses.
Kayode also allegedly conducted BEC and romance scams and worked closely with Uzuh and others to run fraudulent schemes.
One of the accounts the 32-year-old provided to individuals in the scheme was used to receive a $69,150 fraudulent wire transfer.
"As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within or transiting the United States are blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with them," OFAC's statement noted.
U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the American government will continue to protect and defend at-risk Americans and businesses from malicious actors.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Omaha Field Office Cyber Task Force, and assisted by the efforts of law enforcement counterparts from Nigeria.