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Feds arrest 8 more in ongoing action against hackers targeting wire transfers

Africa-based conspiracy defrauded U.S. citizens and companies out of $15 million

For the second time this month, federal authorities have arrested a number of people who allegedly participated in schemes designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including those involving real estate transactions.

Earlier in the month, the feds arrested nearly 75 people for allegedly participating in the “Business Email Compromise” schemes, where hackers attempt to gain access to the email accounts of employees who have access to company finances, businesses working with foreign suppliers or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.

This week, eight more people were arrested and four more were charged with participating in a widespread, Africa-based cyber conspiracy that allegedly defrauded U.S. citizens and companies out of $15 million over the last several years.

As part of the sweep, five people were arrested in the United States for their roles in the conspiracy, including: Javier Luis Ramos Alonso, a Mexican citizen residing in Seaside, California; James Dean, of Plainfield, Indiana; Dana Brady, of Auburn, Washington; Rashid Abdulai, a Ghanaian citizen residing in the Bronx, New York; and Olufolajimi Abegunde, a Nigerian citizen residing in Atlanta, Georgia.

Additionally, Maxwell Atugba Abayeta, aka Maxwell Peter, and Babatunde Martins, of Ghana, and Benard Emurhowhoariogho Okorhi, a Nigerian citizen who resides in Ghana, were arrested overseas and are pending extradition proceedings to face charges filed in the U.S.

The indictment also charges Sumaila Hardi Wumpini; Dennis Miah; Ayodeji Olumide Ojo; and Victor Daniel Fortune Okorhi, all of whom remained at-large as of earlier this week.

The arrests and charges were the result of a Department of Justice task force called “Operation Keyboard Warrior,” which also included efforts from international law enforcement.

The indictment alleges that the conspirators committed, or helped commit, a series of intrusions into the servers and email systems of a Memphis-based real estate company in June and July 2016.

The indictment does not specify which Memphis-based real estate company was the victim of the hacking. The indictment refers to the company only as “Company A,” and states that the company is a “full-service real estate company headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, with 115 offices and more than 3,000 licensed sales associates located throughout its nine-state area of service.”

According to the indictment, the scammers allegedly used “sophisticated anonymization techniques, including the use of spoofed email addresses and Virtual Private Networks,” to identify large financial transactions (likely real estate deals), began fraudulently communicating with the relevant parties, and redirected closing funds through a complex network of U.S.-based conspirators and onto final destinations in Africa.

The indictment states that this part of the scheme caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to companies and individuals in Memphis.

Additionally, some of the defendants are charged with perpetrating various romance scams, fraudulent-check scams, gold-buying scams, advance-fee scams, and credit card scams.

Through the various schemes, the defendants are believed to have caused millions in losses to victims around the world.

“The defendants allegedly unleashed a barrage of international fraud schemes that targeted U.S. businesses and individuals, robbing them to the tune of approximately $15 million,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our international partners to aggressively disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that victimize our citizens and businesses.”

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