A Nigerian man was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 60 months in prison for his role in fraudulent business email compromise (BEC) scams, the United States Department of Justice announced this week.
The man, Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara, 30, of Lagos, Nigeria, was charged for defrauding thousands of victims of more than $25 million. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud in April.
In addition to the prison term, Opara was sentenced to two years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution. His co-defendant, David Chukwuneke Adindu (“Adindu”), was sentenced in December 2017 to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution.
Between 2014 and 2016, Opara and Adindu engaged in multiple BEC scams that targeted victims worldwide, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Singapore.
As part of the scheme, Opara sent fake emails to employees of the victim companies, asking for funds to be transferred to specified bank accounts. The emails claimed to arrive from supervisors at those companies or from third party vendors the companies did business with.
“In reality, the emails were either sent from email accounts with domain names very similar to those of the companies and vendors, or the metadata for the emails was modified to make it appear as if the emails had been sent from legitimate email addresses,” the DoJ explains.
The fraudsters withdrew the funds immediately after the victims transferred them, or moved them to other bank accounts controlled by scheme participants. The fraudsters attempted to steal more than $25 million from their intended victims.
Opara also created accounts on dating websites and engaged in online romantic relationships with individuals in the United States by posing as a young attractive woman. Using this fake identity, he instructed individuals in the U.S. to send money overseas and/or to receive money fraudulently acquired through the BEC scams, and forward the proceeds to others.
One of the individuals who fell to this romantic relationship scheme sent over $600,000 of their own money to bank accounts controlled by scheme participants.
“Opara also attempted to recruit at least 14 other individuals via dating websites to receive funds from BEC scams into their bank accounts and then transfer the proceeds to overseas bank accounts,” the DoJ reveals.
The fraudster was arrested in December 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was extradited to the U.S. in January 2018.
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