Three Nigerian nationals extradited from South Africa have been convicted of wide-ranging internet fraud schemes in a United States court, unravelling a large network of international internet scammers.
The convicted men, Oladimeji Seun Ayelotan, 30, Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, 31 and Femi Alexander Mewase, 45, collectively face hundreds of years in prison after being found guilty by a federal jury in the Southern District of Mississippi.
A total of 21 people in the US, Nigeria and South Africa have been charged in the case .
According to testimony and evidence presented in the three-week trial, the trio participated in numerous complex internet-based financial fraud schemes including romance scams, re-shipping scams, fraudulent cheque scams, work-at-home scams as well as bank, financial, and credit card account takeovers.
Speaking to News24 Hawks cybercrime unit head Brigadier Piet Pieterse said his team had worked undercover for 12 months to build a case against the large network of criminals in the South African wing of the syndicate.
“The criminal enterprise was cross-border. We managed to infiltrate the syndicate and get a good picture of their operations. We as the Hawks were there to make an impact at the top tier levels of the criminal enterprise. Nabbing bottom level people was not our directive.”
Pieterse said a take-down operation resulted in eleven arrests in South Africa.
Fictitious online relationships
“The take-down was done simultaneously with the United States and Canada who also took down members of the criminal organisation based in their countries at the same time.”
Pieterse welcomed the convictions and said South African authorities used simple but effective investigative methods to gather evidence and stop the cybercrimes.
“We stuck to the basics and it paid off.”
Some of the charges the men were convicted of include conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft, access device fraud, theft of US government funds and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The US Justice Department said that from as early as 2001, the Nigerian trio identified and solicited potential victims through online dating websites and work-at-home opportunities.
“In some instances, the defendants carried on fictitious online romantic relationships with victims for the purpose of using the victims to further objectives of the conspiracy.”
Other SA authorities that worked on the case included the South African Police Service, Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI) Electronic Crimes Unit, the SAPS Interpol Extradition Unit, the National Prosecution Authority and the South African Department of Justice.
How did the scams work?
- Criminals would illegally obtain banking information from all around the world through hacking.
- They would use this information to purchase merchandise online.
- Scamming victims would then be asked to re-package items and send them to South Africa.
- The criminal enterprise in South Africa would use its elaborate distribution network extending into Africa to make a profit off the items.