How Nigerian orchestrated the “largest case of online fraud in US history” .
Nigerians are gradually becoming notorious is global cyber crime.
Few days ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, has arrested thirteen Nigerians, over alleged $30 million money laundering scheme in the United States.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani laments that internet scammers have become role models for many youths in her country.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US has indicted 80 people – 77 of them Nigerians – in what it describes as the “largest case of online fraud in US history” .
But most shocking for Nigerians was the separate arrest of their internationally celebrated business tycoon, Obinwanne Okeke.
The head of Nigeria’s Invictus Group, which has interests in sectors ranging from agriculture to real estate, he was named by the respected Forbes magazine in 2016 as one of its 30 top African entrepreneurs aged under 30 .
Now Mr Okeke – or Invictus Obi as he is popularly known – is accused by the US authorities of stealing $11m (£8m) in one online scam alone.
He pleaded not guilty in court , and was remanded in custody.
The FBI publicises similarly sensational busts every few years, often followed by swift convictions and impressive jail sentences.
Yet this does little to deter more Nigerian men from involvement in what has been revealed as a widening network of global cyber fraud.
Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed, or e-mailed, from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number given in the letter or return e-mail address provided in the message. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a “propensity for larceny” by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist, and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but loss. Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances. While such an invitation impresses most law-abiding citizens as a laughable hoax, millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually. Some victims have been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned against their will along with losing large sums of money. The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. The schemes themselves violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419 fraud.”
Names of the 77 Nigerians recently arrested for massive fraud:
1 Valentine Iro
2 Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe
3 Jerry Elo Ikogho
4 Izuchukwu Kingsley Umejesi
5 Adegoke Moses Ogungbe
6 Chukwudi Collins Ajaeze (better known as Thank You Jesus)
7 Ekene Augustine Ekechukwu
8 Chuks Eroha
9 Collins Nnaemeka Ojima
10 Uchenna Ochiagha
11 Nnamdi Theojoseph Duru
12 Ericson Uche Oforka
13 Mark Ifeanyi Chukwuocha
14 Augustine Nnamdi
15 Chiemezie Christopher Chilaka
16 Charles Ohajimkpo
17 Stanley Ugochukwu Uche
18 Chika Augustine Odionyenma
19 Paschal Chima Ogbonna
20 Samuel Nnamdi Onwuasoanya
21 Macwilliam Chinonso Chukwuocha
22 Emmanuel Onyeka Uzoka
23 Joshua Aniefiok Awak
24 George Ugochukwu Egwumba
25 Uchechukwu Solomon Ezirim
26 Augustine Ifeanyi Okafor
27 Okay Sam Mal
28 Leslie N. Mba
29 Ogohukwu Innocent Ikewesi
30 Emmanuel Uzoma Ogandu (better known as Son of God’
31 Amarachukwu Harley Anywanu
32 Bright Ifeanyi Azubuike
33 Emeka Moses Nwachukwu
34 Donatus Izunwanne
35 Chinwendu Kenneth Osuji
36 Eusebius Ugochukwu Onyeka
37 Chidi Anunobi
38 Anthony Nwabunwanne Okolo
39 Obinna Christian Onuwa
40 Chijioke Chukwuma Isamade
41 Linus Nnamdi Madufor
42 Chrysaugonus Nnebedum
43 Ugochukwu Okereke
44 Fidel Leon Odimara
45 Kingsley Chinedu Onudorogu
46 Dessi Nzenwah
47 Chimaroke Obasi
48 James Chigozie Agube
49 Chimaobi Uzozie Okorie
50 Ogochukwu Ohiri
51 Kennedy Chibueze Ugwu
52 Ifeanyichukwu Oluwadamilare Agwuegbo
53 Victor Ifeanyi Chukwu
54 Chidi Emmanuel Megwa
55 Princewill Arinze Duru
56 Desmond Iwu
57 Onyeka Vincent Chika
58 Ifeanyi Kingsley Mezienwa
59 Victor Uchenna Aguh
60 Kevin Amarachi Eshimnu
61 Vitalis Kelechi Anozie
62 Williams Obiora Agunwa
63 George Chimezie Dike
64 Munachiso Kyrian Ukachukwu
65 Nwannebuike Osmund
66 Chidiebere Franklin Nwangwu
67 Damian Uchechukwu Ajah
68 Emeka P. Ejiofor
69 Lawrence Chukwuma Ubasineke
70 Chinedu Bright Ibeto
71 Valentine Amarachi Nwanegwo
72 Emmanuel Chidiebere Dike
73 Jeremiah Utieyin Eki
74 Chinaka Davidson Iwuoha
75 Chima Darlington Duru
76 Ikenna Christian Ihejiureme
77 Obi Onyedika Madekwe
When Nigerians first attained notoriety in the 1990s for defrauding Westerners of millions of dollars, the scams became known as 419 after the section of the Nigerian penal code which tackles such crimes.
Nigerians, who are generally religious, also linked the aptness of this number to the Book of Psalms, chapter 41 and verse 9 (41:9), which seems to describe the typical advance fee fraud: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted his heel against me.”
These days, the scams, which are conducted mostly online, via email and messaging apps, are often referred to as Yahoo Yahoo.
They are usually romance scams, or phishing, which FBI special agent Michael Nail once referred to as “modern-day bank robbery”.
“You can sit at home in your PJs and slippers with a laptop, and you can actually rob a bank,” he said.
- Criminals who commit romance fraud trawl through profiles and piece together information such as wealth and lifestyle, in order to manipulate their victims
- Police can investigate and help to provide support, but often cannot get the money back
- It is very simple for fraudsters to cover their tracks by masking IP addresses and using unregistered phone numbers
- Never send money to someone online you have never met
- Think twice about posting personal information which could be used to manipulate or bribe you
The first wave of Nigerian 419 scammers were mostly uneducated criminals.
The next group comprised young, educated men who were frustrated by the lack of formal jobs in an economy ruined by a series of military dictatorships and years of mismanagement.
They noticed the uneducated scammers accumulating wealth and esteem, and decided to join them.
After that followed a batch that simply admired the scammers.
‘Training school raided’
They had observed the scammers establish legitimate businesses from fraudulent funds, and become respected philanthropists or politicians in senior leadership positions.
These people are the inspiration for many up-and-coming scammers, and many young Nigerians consider scamming a career path and a valid source of income.
In May, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), raided a “Yahoo Yahoo training school” in the commercial capital Lagos, arrested the proprietor, and eight students who were allegedly being taught skills to carry out cyber fraud.
The FBI’s intermittent busts always lead to national shock and embarrassment, and a period of collective soul-searching no matter how brief.
The local media has provided a stream of headlines and commentary about Mr Okeke and the other men indicted – whom we must remember are innocent until proven guilty in court – while various experts have suggested what can be done to turn young Nigerians away from the wide and wicked path.
Videos have circulated of the accused men engaged in lavish displays of wealth, such as throwing a party where guests danced on a floor covered in dollar notes and having a “champagne bath”, drenched from top to toe in the expensive wine.
Also in circulation are photos of some of them posing with top government officials.
One man on the FBI’s list was on the inauguration committee of a newly elected state governor barely three months ago. The BBC has not verified the authenticity of the videos and photos.
The mocked government officials were quick to deny any close association with the accused.
But the truth is, that sometimes it turns out that the fraudsters are known to us.
They are our brothers’ friends, friends’ husbands, dates, or relatives who genuflect as they smile sweetly and say to us: “Good morning, Auntie.”
A young man who was on the FBI’s most wanted list for years and eventually convicted of $40m fraud in 2013, is the only son of a lovely woman I considered my mother’s prettiest and most fashionable friend while I was growing up in Umuahia city in south-eastern Nigeria.
These fraudsters flash their lavish lifestyles in our faces. We attend their ostentatious weddings and parties.
They are the special guests at our events. Our community and humanitarian projects benefit from their largess.
But we feel immensely ashamed when their names feature on FBI lists or when they are arrested. They become a national disgrace.
“This is double damage on every citizen of Nigeria,” said presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, following the arrest of Mr Okeke and the other Nigerians indicted.
“It is a big scar on all of us who go out of this country and are seen in this image that these our brothers have created,” he added.
If convicted, Mr Okeke faces up to 30 years in jail, experts say. His court case will resume in February 2020.
Nigerians are particularly worried that the scams might hamper international recognition of the country’s young entrepreneurs, and the granting of visas to those with legitimate business interests in the US.
There is also that part of some Nigerians that cannot help but admire these young scammers – the ingenuity and audacity that enables them to swipe, with ease, millions of dollars from American neuroscientists, British CEOs and German scholars.
Imagine if these young criminals had better role models and opportunities. Imagine how much they could contribute to the advancement of humankind.