THE US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has revealed the mode of operation through which the suspected Nigerian swindler Ramon Olorunwa Abbas alias Hushpuppi, and his gang were tracked until he was arrested in Dubai, United Arabs Emirates (UAE) on June 10.
Special agent Andrew John Innocenti, in an affidavit attached to the charges against Hushpuppi in the US, said the main suspect and others identified only as Coconspirator 1 and Coconspirator 2, used to hack into the computers of their targets and move money from one account to the other across the globe.
They then use the huge money so realised to live large, acquiring expensive properties, designer clothes, expensive watches and luxury cars, and also charter jets.
According to the FBI agent, their Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud schemes “often involve a computer hacker gaining unauthorised access to a business-email account, blocking or redirecting communications to and/or from that email account, and then using the compromised email account or a separate fraudulent email account (sometimes called a “spoofed” email account) to communicate with personnel from a victim company and to attempt to trick them into making an unauthorised wire transfer.
“The fraudster will direct the unsuspecting personnel of the victim company to wire funds to the bank account of a third party (sometimes referred to as a “money mule”), which is often a bank account owned, controlled, and/or used by individuals involved in the scheme based in the United States. The money may then be laundered by wiring or transferring it through numerous bank accounts to launder the money, or by quickly withdrawing it as cash, by check, or by cashier’s check.”
Abbas and Coconspirators 1 and 2 allegedly laundered approximately $396,050 while Coconspirator 2 was in Los Angeles, California
Abbas and Coconspirator 1, he said, “conspired to launder funds intended to be stolen through fraudulent wire transfers from a foreign financial institution (the “Foreign Financial Institution”), in which fraudulent wire transfers totaling approximately €13 million (approximately USD $14.7 million) were sent to bank accounts around the world in February 2019.
“Coconspirator 1 conspired with the persons who initiated the fraudulent wire transfers, and also conspired with a number of others, including ABBAS, to launder the funds that were intended to be stolen.
“ABBAS, specifically, provided Coconspirator 1 with two bank accounts in Europe that ABBAS anticipated would each receive €5 million of the fraudulently obtained funds.”
Continuing, he said that analysis of Coconspirator 1’s iPhone and other online accounts showed that Coconspirator 1 “operated and tasked money mule crews for a number of fraudulent schemes, including BEC schemes and cyber-heists.
“Analysis also showed that Coconspirator 1 communicated with the U.A.E. phone number +971543777711 (“Phone Number 1”) about multiple fraudulent schemes and money laundering.
“Phone Number 1 was one of the phone numbers ABBAS used during 2019 and 2020.
“Based on my review (pursuant to federal search warrants obtained in this District) of data from Coconspirator 1’s iPhone and from an online account connected to that phone (the “Online Account”), other law enforcement personnel’s review of that digital data, and from discussions with United States Secret Service (“USSS”) and FBI personnel, I know the following: a.Coconspirator 1’s iPhone listed Phone Number 1 (+971543777711) with the contact name “Hush.” The phone also contained a contact for Snapchat username “hushpuppi5,” which listed the Snapchat contact name “The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!” b.Searches of Phone Number 1 and the contact name “Hush” inCoconspirator 1’s iPhone revealed messaging conversations between “Hush,” using Phone Number 1, and Coconspirator 1. (For ease of reference, communications with this moniker and Phone Number 1 are referred to as communications with ABBAS in the remainder of this affidavit.)
“In or around December 2019, April 2020, and June 2020, I reviewed the publicly viewable Instagram account of “hushpuppi” at www.instagram.com/hushpuppi. Based on information available on the profile page, the user of that account made more than 500 posts and had 2.3 million followers as of June 2020.11.
“This Instagram account included numerous publicly viewable images of a man who appeared to be ABBAS, based on comparisons to photographs of ABBAS in passports and other identification documents referenced below in paragraphs 16.c to 16.c.iv. Hundreds of these images on the Instagram account showed ABBAS in designer clothing and shoes, posing on or in luxury vehicles, wearing high-end watches, or possessing other luxury items, indicating substantial wealth.”
Abbas made his initial court appearance in Chicago, USA, on Friday and he is expected to be transferred to Los Angeles in the coming weeks.
He was extradited to the USA from Dubai on Thursday to face charges of conspiracy to launder millions of dollars from business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams.
The US Justice Department described Abbas as a “Dubai resident who flaunted his extravagant lifestyle on social media.”
Hushpuppi was arrested along with 11 others in six simultaneous raids carried out by the Dubai Police.
Confiscated from them were 13 luxury cars worth N2. 640 billion (Dh 25 million), 21 laptops, 47 smartphones, 15 memory storage devices, 5 external hard drives and 800, 000 emails of potential victims.
The gang was responsible for Dh1.6 billion (about N169 billion) fraud involving over 1.9 million victims.