Mississippi ties to international cybercrime bust

via Moak: Mississippi ties to international cybercrime bust on clarionledger.com

Every day, thousands of people around the globe are victimized by nameless, faceless criminals hiding behind computer screens. In the wild west of global telecommunications, it’s surprisingly easy to pluck money from unsuspecting people via the Internet.

Most of the time, the money is gone and unrecoverable down a vast international black hole, the perpetrators never found (much less, prosecuted). International laws make it difficult — if not impossible — to investigate these crimes and bring the crooks to justice. Often, they originate in poor countries such as Nigeria, where organized crime organizations have learned there’s lots of money to be made by luring the unsuspecting.

But last week, there was finally some good news, and it happened right here in the Magnolia State. The Department of Justice announced the extradition of six Nigerian nationals from South Africa to Mississippi to face a nine-count federal indictment for various Internet frauds. These six people join 15 others who were previously charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, identity theft and money laundering.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi made the announcement.

Oladimeji Seun Ayelotan, 30; Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, 31; Olusegun Seyi Shonekan, 33; Taofeeq Olamilekan Oyelade, 30; Olufemi Obaro Omoraka, 26; and Anuoluwapo Segun Adegbemigun, 39, are charged along with 15 others. Of those, three have already been convicted, six are awaiting trial, and the U.S. government is seeking the extradition of four other Nigerians. Two others remain fugitives.

The scammers were allegedly carrying out several varieties of the scheme, including online-dating cons, bogus work-at-home opportunities and “reshipping” plots. “In some cases, they carried on so-called “romantic” relationships with their targets, trying to get their victims to do things like re-ship merchandise purchased with stolen credit cards, deposit counterfeit checks and send money to the defendants — whether via wiring money or sending prepaid debit cards,” the DOJ noted in a news release last week.

As far back as 2001, according to the indictment, the group “identified and solicited potential victims through online dating websites and work-at-home opportunities.” For example, the indictment alleges the defendants convinced victims to ship and receive merchandise purchased with stolen personal identifying information and compromised credit card and banking information, to deposit counterfeit checks, and to transfer proceeds of the conspiracy via wire, U.S. mail or express delivery services.

This case is a stark reminder of just how complex it can be to bring alleged criminals to justice. The DOJ news release thanked no less than 12 separate agencies for their help, including several federal agencies such as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations units and U.S. Marshals Service, four agencies in South Africa, and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Since the case is still developing, you may have something to contribute if you’ve been a victim of one of these scams. The Federal Trade Commission’s Lois Greisman, in a recent blog post, encouraged people to visit the DOJ’s announcement at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/six-nigerian-nationals-extradited-south-africa-mississippi-face-fraud-charges, because it contains a list of names and email addresses used in the scheme. If you have something to contribute, contact information is included. Your input could help put these people away for a long time.

Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for the hard-working folks who spend their days and nights trying to root out those who would do us harm. Law enforcement investigation isn’t glamorous, action-filled or in the spotlight; often, it’s usually just day after day of poring over financial records, phone calls and Internet chat rooms, as they put the pieces together and bring criminals to justice. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

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