February 9, 2017

Just in time for Valentine’s Day — Romance scams

Nigerian Romance Fraudster Olayinka Sunmola Sentenced to 27 years in federal prison – prosecuted  in the Southern District of Illinois.

Sunmola operated from South Africa, often impersonating an officer in the U.S. Army.  He defrauded at least 100 women, several of whom even bought wedding dresses in anticipation of their marriage to him when he arrived.  Sunmola also used stolen credit cards to steal laptops and other electronic gear worth over $1 million, which he had his victims ship to him in South Africa.  In addition to prison, Sunmola was ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution.   The South African police have sold Sunmola’s home and other assets in South Africa, and $200,000 has been turned over to the court for return to victims.

In sentencing Sunmola the court relied not only on evidence of financial losses, but also the devastating emotional impact his fraud had on victims.  At the conclusion of his time in prison he will be deported to Nigeria.  For a full description of this case click here.

Nigerian romance scammer, senior member of “black axe” faces extradition from Canada

Akohomen Ighedoise admitted that he impersonated a US Army General and defrauded a Toronto widow of $609,000.  He now faces extradition from Canada to the US.  Canadian officals also charge that Ighedoise is a senior member of the Black Axe, also known as the Nigerian Mafia.   The Black Axe is alleged to operate around the world, and is suspected of murdering scores of people around the world.

Three Nigerians who had been extradited from South Africa convicted in Southern District of Mississippi after three week trial.  They were convicted of a variety of crimes including romance scams, fake check scams, reshipping scams and other fraud.  21 other defendants have also been charged in this major effort.  Last summer that office extradited six Nigerians from South Africa.

Ashley Madison documentary now airing on Netflix in the US

Ashley Madison is the dating site for extramarital affairs that had a massive data breach, including names and photos of millions of cheating spouses.  A documentary called “Sex, Lies, and Cyber Attacks aired in the UK and is now being released here.  In addition, the Federal Trade Commission and the Privacy Commissioners of Canada and Australia recently settled a case against Ashley Madison, dealing not only with Ashley Madison’s false promises that it made sure that its data was secure, but also alleging that many, or most, of the women on the site did not really exist.   See this article providing essentials on this settlement.

Changes at the Federal Trade Commission

The President has named FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen as Acting Chair of the FTC.  She has named Tom Pahl Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.  Both are highly respected.

New Identity theft Survey for 2016

Key points:

  • Identity theft increased 16% from 2015
  • Two million more victims
  • Losses up to $16 billion for 2016
  • Use of stolen credit cards over the internet and on the phone went up 40%
  • Use of stolen cards used in person stayed level
  • New chip cards may be reason for the change
  • New account fraud – applying for a credit card in someone else’s name – nearly doubled
  • Losses from account takeover fraud up 61%, estimated losses $2.3 billion
  • Hijacking of mobile phone accounts nearly doubled

Increase seen in “binary options” investment fraud

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (formerly known as Phonebusters) has seen a strong increase in this type of investment fraud in the last year or so.  According to press reports there may be 100 or more boiler rooms operating out of Israel and defrauding victims around the world out of billions of dollars.   There was a recent suicide by one Canadian investor, and last month police and regulators around the world met to discuss this problem.


Ransomware  Shuts down government of Licking County Ohio

UK arrests two for ransomware on DC police surveillance cameras

Video explains how ransomware works

 Fake Checks

New FBI warning on fake check scams targeting college students

Fake jobs for college students.  They are sent a fake check, deposit it, and send money to a supposed third party.


Jamaican in Schenectady NY sentenced to 41 months in prison.  Used bogus sweepstakes mailings, then collected funds from victims and sent part to Jamaica.

Press release from indictment

Newspaper column in Jamaica on the problem of lottery scammers

Business Email Compromise, or CEO fraud, now hitting Homeowners

In the last year or two there has been a dramatic increase worldwide in frauds that use emails  impersonating CEO’s and other senior executives and instructing financial officers to wire money to accounts controlled by the fraudsters.  The FBI reports businesses are losing billions. In addition, this fraud has now begun targeting personnel officials, telling them to send along the W-2’s of groups of employees, which can then be used for ID theft or to file bogus tax returns.

The FBI says this fraud has taken a new turn – emails supposedly from lenders or title companies telling those who have just sold their home to wire the down payment needed for a new home to the crooks.  The FBI says this has increased a great deal over the last six months. This video does a good job explaining how this works.  Feel free to share.

Facebook Fraud

Woman in Cape Coral FL received message on Facebook from “friend” who told her she had qualified for a free government grant of $20,000; sends $300 through Western Union to Nigeria

NPR internet search finds fake phone number for facebook.  Victim told to solve problem he needed to buy iTunes gift cards

Grandparent Fraud

77 year old woman in Springfield, MO sends $2500 through MoneyGram for a grandparent fraud; man arrested in Tewksbury, MA when he picks up money

Police in Ramapo NY arrest grandparent fraudster

Other Recent Enforcement

New Legislation

Legislation Introduced by Senators Collins and McCaskill would train financial professionals and allow them to report suspicions about financial abuse of elderly customers

Just for Fun

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