The Justice Department have indicted dozens of individuals accused of involvement in a massive business email scam and money laundering scheme.
News of the early-morning raids were first reported by ABC7 in Los Angeles.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Central District of California, confirmed more than a dozen individuals had been arrested during the raids on Thursday — mostly in the Los Angeles area. A total of 80 defendants are allegedly involved in the scheme.
The 145-page indictment, unsealed Thursday, said the 80 named individuals are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud, as well as aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Several other defendants were arrested across the U.S. Most of the individuals are based in Nigeria, said the spokesperson.
It’s not immediately known if the Nigerian nationals will be extradited to the U.S., however a treaty exists between the two nations making extraditions possible.
U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna is expected to issue a statement shortly.
These business email compromise scams rely partly on deception and in some cases hacking. Scammers send specially crafted spearphishing emails to their targets in order to trick them into turning over sensitive information about the company, such as sending employee W-2 tax documents so scammers can generate fraudulent refunds, or tricking an employee into making wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the scammers. More often than not, the scammers use spoofing techniques to impersonate a senior executive over email to trick the unsuspecting victim, or hack into the email account of the person they are impersonating.
The FBI says these impersonation attacks have cost consumers and businesses more than $3 billion since 2015.
The alleged fraudsters are accused of carrying out several hundred “overt” acts of fraud against over a dozen victims, generating millions of dollars worth of fraud over several months. In some cases the fraudsters would hack into the email accounts of the person they were trying to impersonate to try to trick a victim into wiring money from a business into the fraudster’s bank account.
Several bank accounts run by the fraudsters contained over $30 million in stolen funds.
The FBI said the agency has seem a large increase in the number of business email scams in the past year targeting small and large businesses, as well as non-profits.
Developing… more soon.