For most deposit account holders, computer expert Desmond Okeowo confirmed an emerging fear in just six words: “Cyber ​​fraud has come to stay.

The CEO, Enviroque Technologies Ltd, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH in an interview, explained that the thirst for cyber fraud could embolden smart people to beat the existing computer system and embezzle money belonging to other people.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation website states that “the Nigerian letter or fraud ‘419” associates the threat of identity theft fraud with a variation of an advance fee system where a letter sent by post or by mail. Nigeria email offers the recipient the “option” to share a percentage. millions of dollars that the author – a self-proclaimed government official – is trying to illegally transfer out of Nigeria.

He adds, “The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a number. fax number specified in the return letter or email address provided in the message.

“The ploy is based on convincing a consenting victim, who has demonstrated a ‘propensity to theft’ by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of amounts. croissants for various reasons. ”

But as recent cases have shown, these 419 scams evolve with technology.

On May 14, while preparing to fly first class to Nigeria, the now suspended Senior Special Assistant to Ogun State Governor Abidemi Rufai, 42, was arrested at John International Airport. F. Kennedy from New York, USA. , for stealing more than $ 350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Department of Job Security.

The US Department of Justice said Rufai, who has since been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with the ‘ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

The case is under investigation by the FBI, the US Secret Service and the US Postal Inspection Service, among others.

Digital Encode Ltd Co-Founder / COO Dr Adewale Obadare noted that the Rufai scam was not sophisticated but simply an exploitation of vulnerabilities inherent in the protocol governing the operation of the Internet – Transmission Control. Protocol / Internet Protocol.

According to Obadare, such instances are the reason cybersecurity professionals create a layer of security over TCP / IP.

He added: “There is a vulnerability with Gmail. For example, if my email address is [email protected], I can also do [email protected], and write it in different ways. This is what he (Rufai) did in order to be able to claim these unemployment funds. So, it’s a problem of duplication of identities, but it was possible because of this fundamental flaw which has to do with TCP / IP.

“Unfortunately for him, the US government noticed because when they saw these transactions happen, the FBI got a subpoena to tell Google to open their email and they discovered it was the same guy using multiple email addresses to claim unemployment funds. This is where Nigeria needs to go.

“In addition, the Nigerian number he used was linked to these (email) addresses and he used his brother’s (home) address who lives in New York as his delivery address. Another factor is that everything in the US is automated unlike Nigeria where there is still some manual TCP. But then sometimes people who understand this system can exploit it like in this case. “

The certified IT professional added that there must be a means of validation, advising bank account holders to “always make sure to validate any transaction before processing it.”

Perhaps the most publicized 419 arrest in mind is that of Instagram celebrity Ramon Abbas, 38, aka Hushpuppi, whose Palazzo Versace apartment was raided in June 2020 by security guards in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before being extradited to the United States. .

The US Department of Justice cited an affidavit, which alleged that Abbas conspired to launder funds stolen in a $ 14.7 million cyber-heist at a foreign financial institution in February 2019, in which the money stolen had been sent to bank accounts around the world.

He and others have also been accused of conspiring to launder “hundreds of millions of dollars from other fraudulent schemes and computer intrusions, including a scheme to steal £ 100million (around $ 124million) ) to an English Premier League football club ”.

Abbas faces 20 years in jail for his alleged crimes.

Similarly, Obinwanne Okeke aka Invictus Obi, 33, was sentenced on February 16, 2021 to 10 years in a US prison for his involvement in a global professional email and hacking program that has caused approximately $ 11 million in known losses. to its victims.

According to court documents, Okeke operated a group of companies known as the Invictus Group based in Nigeria and elsewhere. Between around 2015 and 2019, Okeke and others engaged in a conspiracy to carry out various computer frauds by obtaining and compiling the credentials of hundreds of victims.

Verified by Sunday PUNCH showed that while more than 100 unidentified Nigerians around the world have been arrested since 2016 for their involvement in cyber fraud cases, at least 31 identified Nigerians have been arrested in the United States, Thailand, Ireland, in India, the Philippines and Malta over the past five years. period.

Aviva Digital Ltd CEO Mr. Michael Oseji attributed the rise in fraud-related cybercrimes among Nigerians abroad to the country’s greed and economic challenges in Nigeria, describing Rufai’s case as motivated by greed.

He said, “For a person like him, I guess he would have known that there is no room for ghostly activity because you leave a footprint online no matter what you do. The moment you open a Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Gmail, or Yahoo email account, you’re leaving a fingerprint.

“In everything you do online you leave a mark and now we do cloud storage. The Governor’s Assistant has been tracked through its cloud storage, making it easier for them (in the US) to track and locate you wherever you are. Even when you transfer money to Nigeria, they know where the money is and how you spent it. ”

Okeowo, who described the lure of cyber fraud as innate, called on financial institutions to step up their security and find ways to protect depositors’ money.

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