Romance scammers among 80 charged in Nigeria-linked online fraud ring

Federal prosecutors in California charged 80 people in what they say is a massive conspiracy tied to Nigeria to defraud people and businesses out of millions of dollars in an indictment unsealed Thursday.

Officials said they arrested 14 people Thursday in connection with the charges, relating to a variety of types of online fraud. Some of the allegations involved business email compromise scams, where scammers took over or impersonated email accounts belonging to various companies in order to send bogus requests for money. Others involved “romance scams,” where fraudsters are said to have logged on to dating services to woo other users and ask them for gifts or to “conduct transactions” on their behalf.

Some victims, including some elderly people, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the scams, prosecutors say. Older people frequently fall victim to digital scams, and federal authorities say business email compromise scams alone led to losses of almost $1.1 billion through July of this year, the Hill reports.

“This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon American citizens and businesses,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement. “Today, we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims. This indictment sends a message that we will identify perpetrators no matter where they reside and we will cut off the flow of ill-gotten gains.”

Two defendants in California, Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, are accused of operating a money-laundering network that transferred at least $6 million in ill-gotten gains, prosecutors say. They allegedly led efforts to set up fake business registrations and bank accounts and to shift funds to Nigeria through underground money exchangers. The defendants are estimated to have attempted to scam people out of at least $40 million.

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Many of the people charged but not arrested in the case are believed to be in Nigeria.

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