$60m scam: Internet fraud syndicate smashed by Interpol


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the International Police (INTERPOL) yesterday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, smashed a global network online swindle syndicate and arrested its ringleader.

The syndicate was said to have duped victims of $60 million.

The suspect,  Mike Onyenwe, may face trial with another 38-year old suspect, who has also been picked up.

Out of the cash, a victim was duped of $15.4million in an operation

The 40-year old suspect had been coordinating a network of at least 40 individuals across Nigeria, Malaysia and South Africa.

The 41-man syndicate had conned unsuspecting victims in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and the United States.

The group was said to have specialised in what is called ‘CEO fraud’.

A joint statement by the EFCC and INTERPOL in Abuja said the ringleader was arrested in Port Harcourt.

The statement reads: “The head of an international criminal network behind thousands of online frauds has been arrested in a joint operation by INTERPOL and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

“The 40-year-old Nigerian national, known as ‘Mike’, is believed to be behind scams totaling more than $60 million involving hundreds of victims worldwide. In one case a target was conned into paying out $15.4 million.

“The network compromised email accounts of small to medium businesses around the world including Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and the US, with the financial victims mainly other companies dealing with these compromised accounts.

“Heading a network of at least 40 individuals across Nigeria, Malaysia and South Africa which both provided malware and carried out the frauds, the alleged mastermind also had money laundering contacts in China, Europe and the US who provided bank account details for the illicit cash flow.

“Following his arrest in Port Harcourt, a forensic examination of devices seized by the EFCC showed he had been involved in a range of criminal activities including Business E-mail Compromise (BEC) and romance scams.

“The main two types of scam run by the 40-year-old targeted businesses were payment diversion fraud – where a supplier’s email would be compromised and fake messages would then be sent to the buyer with instructions for payment to a bank account under the criminal’s control – and ‘CEO fraud’.

“In CEO fraud, the email account of a high-level executive is compromised and a request for a wire transfer is sent to another employee who has been identified as responsible for handling these requests. The money is then paid into a designated bank account held by the criminal.”

The statement gave insights into how the EFCC and INTERPOL had been on the trail of ‘Mike’.

“Mike first came onto the law enforcement radar through a report provided to INTERPOL by Trend Micro, one of its strategic partners at the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) in Singapore.

“This, combined with actionable analysis and intelligence from Fortinet Fortiguard Labs in 2015, enabled specialists at the INTERPOL Digital Crime Centre, including experts from Cyber Defense Institute based at the IGCI, and the EFCC to locate the suspect in Nigeria, resulting in his arrest in June.

“Abdul Chukkol, Head of the EFCC’s Cybercrime Section said the transnational nature of business e-mail compromise made it complex to crack.

He said the arrest “sent a clear signal that Nigeria could not be considered a safe haven for criminals.”

He added: “For a long time we have said in order to be effective, the fight against cybercrime must rely on public-private partnerships and international cooperation.

“The success of this operation is the result of close cooperation between INTERPOL and the EFCC, whose understanding of the Nigerian environment made it possible to disrupt the criminal organization’s network traversing many countries, targeting individuals and companies”

The Executive Director of the IGC, Noboru Nakatani, warned that BEC poses a significant and growing threat, with tens of thousands of companies victimized in recent years.

Nakatani said: “The public, and especially businesses, need to be alert to this type of cyber-enabled fraud,”

“Basic security protocols such as two-factor authentication and verification by other means before making a money transfer are essential to reduce the risk of falling victim to these scams.

“It is exactly through this type of public and private sector cooperation that INTERPOL will continue to help member countries in bringing cybercriminals to justice no matter where they are.”

The statement said” the 40-year-old, along with a 38-year-old also arrested by Nigerian authorities, faces charges including hacking, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretences.

“Both are currently on administrative bail as the investigation continues.”

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