Wednesday, August 4, 2021

FBI busts Nigerian Internet syndicate over multimillion-dollar fraud

The suspects filed claims that they had lost jobs as an accountant, dance therapist, computer consultant, librarian or other occupations, and used untraceable IP addresses.

• July 19, 2021
A composite of Bakare, Sangode and Adeyinka
A composite of Bakare, Sangode and Adeyinka

A syndicate of Nigerian unemployment fraudsters has been busted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the United States, court documents seen by Peoples Gazette said.

The suspects, identified in court filings as Quazeem Owolabi Adeyinka, Ayodeji Jonathan Sangode and Olamide Yusuf Bakare, were broken up last week, with authorities saying they stole over $2.6 million in bogus unemployment insurance claims.

The suspected Internet crooks used an address in Hyattsville, Maryland, to rake in about $1.4 million in unemployment benefits from California, Arizona, Maryland and North Carolina. At least $1.2 million of the theft was received from California’s Employment Development Department alone, according to court records seen by The Gazette.

They filed about 200 unemployment claims with California’s EDD using a single address on 75th Avenue in Hyattsville, and the department was deceived into approving 97 of the claims, according to a complaint filed by John C. Collins, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor. Mr Collins said the ring was jointly investigated by the FBI, Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and state law enforcement authorities.

“Based on the size of the apartment, the investigation has concluded that a high number of UI applications associated with this address is unreasonable, and thus an indicator of fraudulent activity. “(Bank of America) records show that 142 UI claim profiles using the 75th Avenue apartment address issued a total of 175 prepaid cards from the states of Arizona, California, Maryland, and North Carolina,” Mr Collins said in the complaint filed in California.

There were several attempts to claim bogus unemployment insurance using the same address from Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, court records say.

The suspects filed claims that they had lost jobs as an accountant, dance therapist, computer consultant, librarian or other occupations, and used untraceable IP addresses, the complaint said.

Federal authorities said they observed that international scammers and con artists were taking advantage of the high volume of COVID-19 cheques being sent out to cushion the effect of the pandemic amongst Americans.

It was not immediately clear whether or not the suspects had contacted their lawyers. The development marked the latest in an increasing spate of arrests being made by U.S. authorities over fictitious unemployment claims and other fraudulent activities linked to Nigerians.

In May, the FBI held Bidemi Rufai, an appointee of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State while trying to fly to Nigeria out of New York. He has since been remanded in prison.

In July last year, Ramon Abbas, widely known as Hushpuppi, was arrested in Dubai and extradited to the U.S. to answer years of Internet fraud activities targeted at Americans. He has also remained in custody.

In 2019, Nigerian businessmen Obinwanne Okeke of Invictus Group and Allen Onyema of Air Peace Limited were indicted on charges of multimillion-dollar fraud. Mr Okeke has since been convicted and sentenced to prison; while Mr Onyema’s case has been pending before a federal court in Atlanta, Georgia.

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