On Tuesday, 10 September 2019, the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) announced that it had arrested 281 people in various countries around the world in connection with ongoing investigations regarding Business E-mail Compromise (BEC) scams. Most of the people arrested were in African countries and specifically in Nigeria as the FBI reported that of the 281 arrested it included 167 arrests in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey, 15 in Ghana, while the rest of the arrests were made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom (UK).

These arrests come barely a month after the FBI held a press conference to announce the arrest and charging of 80 people for what they called a "Nigerian Money Scam."

“The Department of Justice has increased efforts in taking aggressive enforcement action against fraudsters who are targeting American citizens and their businesses in business email compromise schemes and other cyber-enabled financial crimes. In this latest four-month operation, we have arrested 74 people in the United States and 207 others have been arrested overseas for alleged financial fraud. The coordinated efforts with our domestic and international law enforcement partners around the world has made these most recent actions more successful. I want to thank the FBI, more than two dozen U.S. Attorney’s Offices, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, our partners in Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the UK, and our state and local law enforcement partners for all of their hard work to combat these fraud schemes and protect the hard-earned assets of our citizens.  Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the Deputy Attorney General.

Operation reWired. Source: FBI

The arrests were part of Operation reWired, an American multi-agency effort to dismantle scammers around the world.

Operation reWired

As part of the arrests around the world, the FBI says it also managed to seize assets and repatriate $3,7 million related to the BEC scams.

The operation is said to have started in May 2019 and it targeted hundreds of BEC scammers around the world.  Among those arrested were also the alleged money mules, used for making transactions, for their role in defrauding victims.

Among those arrested on federal charges in BEC schemes include:

  • Following an investigation led by the FBI’s Chicago Division, Brittney Stokes, 27, of Country Club Hills, Illinois, and Kenneth Ninalowo, 40, of Chicago, Illinois, were charged in the Northern District of Illinois with laundering over $1.5 million from proceeds of BEC scams.  According to the indictment, a community college and an energy company were defrauded into sending approximately $5 million to fraudulent bank accounts controlled by the scammers.  Banks were able to freeze approximately $3.6 million of the $5 million defrauded in the two schemes.  Law enforcement officials seized a 2019 Range Rover Velar S from Stokes and approximately $175,909 from Stokes and Ninalowo.
  • As a result of a joint investigation by the FBI, HSI, and DSS, Opeyemi Adeoso, 44, of Dallas, Texas, and Benjamin Ifebajo, 45, of Richardson, Texas, were arrested and charged in the Northern District of Texas with bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.  Adeoso and Ifebajo are alleged to have received and laundered at least $3.4 million.  In furtherance of their scheme, they are alleged to have assumed 12 fictitious identities and defrauded 37 victims from across the United States.
  • As part of a larger investigation by the FBI and the USSS in Miami, Yamel Guevara Tamayo, 36, of Miami, Florida, and Yumeydi Govantes, 39, of Miami, Florida, were charged in the Southern District of Florida with laundering more than $950,000 of proceeds of BEC scams.  The two individuals were also responsible for recruiting approximately 18 other individuals to serve as money mules, who laundered proceeds of BEC scams for an international money laundering network.  The victims of the BEC scams included title companies, corporations, and individuals.  The individuals were indicted June 18, 2019 and arrested June 20, 2019.  The change of plea for both individuals is scheduled for Sept. 16.
  • In an investigation by FBI Atlanta, two individuals were charged in the Northern District of Georgia for their involvement in a Nigeria-based BEC scheme that began with a $3.5 million transfer of funds fraudulently misdirected from a Georgia-based health care provider to accounts across the United States.  Two Nigerian nationals, Emmanuel Igomu, 35, of Atlanta, Georgia, and Jude Balogun, 29, of San Francisco, California, have been arrested on charges of aiding and abetting wire fraud for their part in receiving and transmitting monies derived from the BEC.
  • Following an investigation by the FBI, Cyril Ashu, 34, of Austell, Georgia; Ifeanyi Eke, 32, of Sandy Springs, Georgia; Joshua Ikejimba, 24, of Houston, Texas; and Chinedu Ironuah, 32, of Houston, Texas, were charged in the Southern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud for their involvement in a Nigeria-based BEC scheme that impacted hundreds of victims in the United States, with losses in excess of $10 million.

Operation reWired was funded and coordinated by the FBI and the Justice Department’s International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2) and follows “Operation Wire Wire,” the first coordinated enforcement action targeting hundreds of BEC scammers.  That effort, announced in June 2018, resulted in the arrest of 74 individuals, the seizure of nearly $2,4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.

Business E-mail Compromise scams

BEC scams are a sophisticated type of online scam that is often targeted at corporate employees with access to company finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.  As the FBI explains, sometimes the criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC scams also exploit individual victims, often real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others, by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.

A recent example of a BEC scam targeted at a company's employees is the August 2019 arrest of Nigeria's Obinwanne Okeke. Okeke, once featured on Forbes' 30 under 30 list, was allegedly involved in defrauding Unatrac Holdings Limited off approximately $12 million using phishing and illegally accessing the victim company CFO's e-mail account.

Okeke's example is a good example of how a BEC scam typically works as he impersonated a key employee after obtaining access to their e-mail accountthrough phishing.  

“The Secret Service has taken a multi-layered approach to combating Business Email Compromise schemes through our Global Investigative Operations Center (GIOC). Domestically, the GIOC assists Secret Service Field Offices and other law enforcement partners with analysis and investigative tactics to enhance the impact of local BEC investigations.  Internationally, the GIOC targets and identifies transnational organized crime networks that perpetrate these cyber-enabled financial fraud schemes.  Through this approach, the Secret Service continues to strive to protect the citizens of the United States and our financial infrastructure from these complex crimes,” said James M. Murray, U.S. Secret Service Director.

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