Most wanted online scammer in Efcc net
— 2nd August 2016
From James Ojo, Abuja
With the arrest of the suspected head of an international criminal network behind thousands of online frauds in a joint operation with the INTERPOL, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) said yesterday that it had recorded a major breakthrough.
According to EFCC, a 40-year-old Nigerian national, known as ‘Mike’, is believed to be behind scams totaling more than USD 60 million involving hundreds of victims worldwide.
In one case for instance, EFCC said a target was conned into paying out USD 15.4 million.
“The network compromised e-mail accounts of small and medium businesses around the world, including in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and the US. The financial victims were mainly other companies dealing with these compromised accounts.
“Heading a network of at least 40 individuals across Nigeria, Malaysia and South Africa which 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,” EFFC said
Following his arrest in Port Harcourt, EFCC in a statement by Wilson Uwujaren noted that a forensic examination of devices seized by investigators showed that 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 suspect targeted businesses were payment diversion fraud, where a supplier’s e-mail 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 e-mail 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.
‘Mike’ first came onto the law enforcement radar through a report 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 base 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 makes it complex to crack, but the arrest sent a clear signal that Nigeria could not be considered a safe haven for criminals.
“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,” said Chukkol.
“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 organisation’s network traversing many countries, targeting individuals and companies,” said Chukkol.
Noboru Nakatani, Executive Director of the IGCI warned that BEC poses a significant and growing threat, with tens of thousands of companies victimised in recent years.
“The public, especially businesses, need to be alert to this type of cyber-enabled fraud,” said Mr Nakatani.
“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,” he said.
The suspect, along with a 38-year-old man 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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