Lagos (AFP) – A Nigerian behind an online fraud network which engineered scams worth more than $60 million (54 million euros) has been arrested in southern oil city of Port Harcourt, Interpol said on Monday.
“The 40-year-old Nigerian national, known as ‘Mike’, is believed to be behind scams totalling more than $60 million involving hundreds of victims worldwide,” the international police organisation said in a statement.
“In one case, a target was conned into paying out $15.4 million,” Interpol said, indicating that the arrest was carried out with the support of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“The network compromised email accounts of small to medium businesses around the world including in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and the United States,” it said.
The suspect ran a network of at least 40 people working from Nigeria, Malaysia and South Africa which used malware and carried out the fraud, and he also had money laundering contacts in China, Europe and the US who provided bank account details for the illicit cash flow.
“Following his arrest in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria, a forensic examination of devices seized by the EFCC showed he had been involved in a range of criminal activities including business e-mail compromise and romance scams,” it said.
The suspect and a fellow fraudster, 38, who was also arrested in the city, face charges including hacking, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretences.
‘Mike’, who was apprehended in southern Nigeria, also allegedly had “money laundering contacts” in China, Europe and the US who provided bank account details to his criminal gang.
“The main two types of scam run ‘Mike’ targeted businesses [and] were payment diversion fraud, where a supplier’s email 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,” explained interpol in a release.
“In CEO fraud, the email 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.”
Cybersecurity firm Trend Micro initially reported the activities of the criminal gang to authorities based on research first published in November 2014 that analysed hundreds of Nigerian scams based on ‘keylogger’ technology and data-exfiltration methods.
Abdul Chukkol, head of the EFCC’s cyber-crime division said: “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.”
“For a long time we have said in order to be effective, the fight against cyber-crime must rely on public-private partnerships and international cooperation,” he added.
Both ‘Mike’ and another suspect, who has not been named, now face charges including hacking, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretences.
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