The kingpin behind one of the world’s biggest internet fraud syndicates has been arrested, Interpol has announced. The 40-year-old Nigerian known simply to investigators as “Mike” was arrested in the coastal city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s oil rich delta region.
Investigators say Mike was the head of a criminal syndicate that had scammed thousands of unsuspecting victims around the world of more than $60 million. The Interpol report says Mike’s network was spread across Nigeria, South Africa, and Malaysia, and consisted of at least 40 persons who carried out the scams and provided the necessary malware for hacking into online profiles.
Mike also had useful contacts and associates in Europe, China, and the United States who provided bank accounts needed for the transfer of illicit cash flows and other money laundering operations.
Interpol believes Mike and his associates compromised the email accounts of several small to medium businesses around the world including in some in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, Thailand, and the US. Their main victims were other companies dealing with these compromised accounts.
The Interpol report says “the main two types of scams run … 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’.
“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.”
The activities of a very few unscrupulous Nigerians like Mike who get involved in elaborate international online scams has done considerable damage to the reputation of the larger majority of Nigerians at home and abroad. Today, a popular method of internet fraud favoured by “confidence men” from all over the world has been christened as the Nigerian Prince Scam.
The abiding stereotypes linking Nigerians to online fraud and related crimes has led law-abiding Nigerian immigrants from around the world to repeatedly complain about being targets of a negative bias from the general population in their host countries, while also being singled out for an unfair amount of scrutiny by security operatives.
In a bid to tackle the activities of online fraudsters, the Nigerian government established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2003. The commission was given broad powers to investigate, arrest, and prosecute suspected cases of internet fraud. Mike’s arrest on Monday was made possible by a joint effort between the Interpol and Nigeria’s EFCC.
Speaking after Mike’s arrest, EFCC cybercrime department head Abdul Chukkol 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 organization’s network traversing many countries, targeting individuals and companies.”
Chukkol further explained that the transnational nature of compromised business e-mail makes it complex to crack, but that the arrest sent a clear signal – Nigeria could not be considered a safe haven for criminals.
“For a long time we have said in order to be effective, the fight against cybercrime must rely on public-private partnerships and international cooperation,” he said.