On Thursday, Aug 22, fourteen members of a group of cyber thieves based out of Los Angeles and Nigeria were arrested in Los Angeles by the FBI. Most of those arrested were Nigerians, according to Military.com.
A 252-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday charged 80 people from around the world, including 11 arrested in Southern California, with participating in a massive conspiracy to steal millions through fraud schemes and launder the money through a Los Angeles-based network. The FBI called it one of the largest internet fraud schemes the agency has ever seen.
The conspiracy involved mostly Nigerian nationals. Two of the defendants named in the indictment were already in federal custody on other charges, six are fugitives believed to be in the United States and the rest are believed to be abroad, with most of them in Nigeria.
According to the criminal complaint, the defendants targeted victims in the U.S. and across the globe in romance scams and with fake emails from known businesses, all in an effort to get money sent under false pretenses.CBS2 Los Angeles
Romance victim – Left with no money and a broken heart
It all started “innocently” in 2016 in a digital network of pen pals with a Japanese woman and a man who claimed his name was Captain Tracy Garcia, a US military member in Syria.
Garcia told the woman, known as “F.K.” in court papers, that he was stationed in Syria. Over a 10 month exchange of emails, a romance developed. After just one month, the trap was sprung: he told her he found a bag of diamonds and needed to smuggle them out of Syria.
He had her talk to a “Red Cross” worker who said Garcia had been injured, but gave him the box with the diamonds. In reality, there were no diamonds, and no Captain Tracy Garcia.
F.K. ultimately made 35 to 40 payments, receiving as many as 10 to 15 emails a day directing her to send money to accounts in the U.S., Turkey and the United Kingdom through the captain’s many purported associates.
The fraudsters even threatened her with arrest if she did not continue to pay and at one point she traveled to Los Angeles because she was told a Russian bank manager had embezzled more than $33,000 of her funds.
She ended up losing around $200,000, and had borrowed money from several relatives. She was on the verge of bankruptcy, and extremely emotionally distraught. But “F.K.” was not the only victim in this fraud ring. They have targeted the elderly, anyone susceptible to romantic overtures, and even businesses large and small. They’ve stolen around $46 Million.
The cyber thieves had at least 80 members, some of which were arrested here in the US. The FBI has contacted the Nigerian government and others to request extradition for the remaining members of the ring. All of them will be charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft, and some are charged with additional offenses for alleged fraud and money laundering.
Featured photo: screenshot via CBS2