Nigerian Nationals Victimize U.S. Persons Through Cyber-Enabled Fraud Schemes
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona
If you believe you were a victim, please contact the Victim Witness Section of the USAO, Dist. of Arizona
PHOENIX, Ariz. – In December 2022, Solomon Ekunke Okpe and Johnson Uke Obogo, both Nigerian nationals, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire, bank, and mail fraud. Okpe and Obogo were involved in a variety of cyber-enabled fraud schemes between December 2011 and January 2017. Okpe also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft.
At the request of the United States, Okpe and Obogo were previously arrested in Malaysia and the United Kingdom, respectively, and were extradited to the District of Arizona in 2022.
According to court documents, Okpe and his co-conspirators’ fraud scheme included business email compromise (BEC), work-from-home, romance, check-fraud, and credit-card scams that targeted unsuspecting victims around the world, and attempted to cause more than a million dollars in losses. The victims of the scheme included individuals and local businesses in the District of Arizona, including a regional branch of First American Bank.
In the BEC schemes, Okpe and co-conspirators hacked into victims’ email accounts. After gaining access to a victim’s account, they would send emails to employees of companies doing business with the victim, directing those employees to transfer money to conspirator-controlled bank accounts. These emails looked like they were coming from the victim, but they were actually unauthorized wiring instructions from Okpe and co-conspirators. To get access to victims’ accounts, Okpe and co-conspirators launched email phishing attacks over the Internet that collected thousands of email addresses, passwords, credit card information, and personal identifiable information of unsuspecting individuals.
In the “work-from-home” scams, Okpe, Obogo, and others falsely posed as online employers on job websites and forums under fictitious online personas, and pretended to “hire” large numbers of individuals around the United States to the positions, including in Arizona. Although the positions were marketed as legitimate, work-from-home jobs, "employees" were actually directed to perform tasks that facilitated other fraud scams, including creating bank and payment processing accounts, transferring or withdrawing money from accounts, and cashing or depositing counterfeit checks.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Gary M. Restaino, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Joseph E. Carrico, Special Agent in Charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made the announcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Goertz of the District of Arizona and Senior Counsel Aarash Haghighat of the Criminal Division's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) are prosecuting the cases against Okpe and Obogo. The Justice Department's Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance throughout the criminal investigation.
A number of victims have been identified by the FBI. However, there is evidence of many more victims that remain unidentified. Anyone who believes they were defrauded by the defendants in this case should contact the Victim Witness Section at the United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona at firstname.lastname@example.org
CASE NUMBER: CR-19-0146-PHX-GMS
RELEASE NUMBER: 2023-011_Okpe
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For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/az/
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Updated February 3, 2023