An international cyber crime syndicate was exposed this week, with 12 people arrested on South African soil, officials said on Wednesday.
Twelve people were arrested in Pretoria on Tuesday while another 10 were arrested in the United States and Canada, authorities from the three countries said in a joint statement.
The arrests came after a joint operation between the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, SA Tactical Response Team and department of home affairs and Interpol, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
“The suspects, 11 Nigerians and one South African woman, are linked to this global scam. The suspects enriched themselves with illegally obtained funds,” authorities said in a statement.
During the operation, investigators seized computers, laptops, cellphones, notebooks and documents.
The 12 appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday on charges of fraud and theft. The matter was postponed to May 28. They would be extradited to the United States where they were expected to face other charges.
HSI Pretoria Attaché Abraham Lugo said the HSI believed that by working with the South African government to dismantle the transnational mass marketing criminal organisations, they would bring the perpetrators to justice and recoup the victims’ losses.
“Our collaboration with the South African Police Service, Interpol and other government agencies, will also increase public awareness of these crimes and hopefully will prevent people from falling victim to these schemes in the future,” he said.
Head of the Hawks, Lt-Gen Anwa Dramat said the arrests were a ramification of the collaboration between South African Police Service and US Homeland Security Investigations.
“If criminals are able to interact with their fellows across the borders, we can do it better,” said Dramat.
The arrests were as a result of the HSI special agents following a financial fraud scam to Sunnyside, Pretoria.
The US federal charges allege that a West African transnational organised crime enterprise was involved in numerous complex financial fraud schemes over the internet.
The fraud included romance scams, reshipping scams, fraudulent check scams, work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account takeovers.
The investigation was initiated by HSI special agents in October 2011, after US law enforcement was contacted by a female victim in Mississippi, who was a victim in one of the scams.
She allegedly received a suspicious package in the mail requesting her to reship the merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa.
During investigations, it was found that the merchandise was purchased using stolen personal identity information and fraudulent credit card information of persons in the United States.
The syndicate is said to have operated for some years purchasing shipping labels from the US Postal Service (USPS), Federal Express, United Parcel Service and DHL with fraudulent credit card information or stolen identities.
Once the merchandise reached South Africa, the group advertised it for sale on the internet.