- A group of alleged scammers may have hidden a significant part of their illicit $17 million in Bitcoin, says the FBI.
- After compromising two Chicago-based companies' business emails, they allegedly organized a phishing scheme by posing as the firms' accountants.
- The suspects were recently arrested in Dubai and will face cyber fraud charges in Chicago.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suspects that a group of Nigerian nationals, who allegedly stole at least $17.5 million from two Chicago-based firms, hid some of their illicitly gained money in Bitcoin, the Daily Post reported yesterday.
Prior to their arrest, the suspects allegedly hatched a plan of a “fraud on a global scale” that could net them $435 million, according to the report.
Olalekan Jakob Ponle, also known as “Mr. Woodbery,” allegedly organized a large-scale phishing scheme against two Chicago-based companies by posing as their accountants. One firm reportedly lost $2.3 million in this manner while another company’s employees transferred over $15.2 million to the suspects.
“The emails were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account, but the fraudulent emails instructed victims to wire funds to a bank account that was set up by money mules at the direction of Ponle,” stated a criminal complaint filed by the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the FBI.
“Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the fraud proceeds to Bitcoin and send them to a virtual wallet that Ponle owned and operated,” according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.
Ponle, as well as his co-conspirator Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, aka “Hushpuppi,” and 10 other suspects were recently arrested in the United Arab Emirates and will face cyber fraud charges in Chicago. The alleged cyber fraud scheme lasted approximately from January to September 2019, the report added.
“Preliminary blockchain analysis indicates that PONLE received at least 1,494.71506296 bitcoin related to these [business email compromise] schemes, valued at approximately $6,599,499.98,” the FBI’s affidavit read, adding “These schemes resulted in attempted and actual losses to victim companies in the tens of millions. PONLE directed money mules in the US to open bank accounts in the names of victim companies.”
Today, Ponle’s alleged BTC stash would be worth nearly $14 million.
Brigadier Jamal Salem Al Jallaf, the director of Dubai’s Criminal Investigation Department, said the local police also confiscated “incriminating documents of a planned fraud on a global scale worth AED 1.6 billion ($435 million),” according to the official page of Dubai police on Facebook. The details of this plan were not disclosed.
Apart from the documents, police officers also seized over 150 million United Arab Emirates dirhams ($40.9 million), 13 luxury cars worth approximately $6.8 million and dozens of digital devices “containing 119,580 fraud files as well as addresses of 1,926,400 victims," Al Jallaf added.