Application security, Compliance Management, Threat Management, Government Regulations

Authorities arrest 281 alleged BEC scammers in ‘Operation reWired’ campaign

Law enforcement officials at home and abroad have arrested 281 individuals over a span of four months, in a massive crackdown on various business email compromise scams, the Justice Department announced yesterday.

Dubbed Operation reWired, the coordinated campaign began in May 2019 and has resulted in 72 arrests in the U.S., and 167 in Nigeria, which is known to be a hotbed of BEC, "419" and romance scams. Arrests also took place in Turkey (18), Ghana (15), France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia and the U.K.

In BEC campaigns, cybercriminals generally trick business employees into sending large sums of funds to an attacker-controlled bank account. These scams are typically accomplished by sending spoofed or compromised emails that at first glance appear to be from an employer or business partner who is asking the recipient to execute a financial transaction.

Among those taken into custody during Operation reWired were Brittney Stokes, 27, of Country Club Hills, Illinois, and Kenneth Ninalowo, 40, of Chicago, who are facing federal charges for allegedly defrauding a community college and an energy company into sending roughly $5 million to their bank accounts.

In another case, Opeyemi Adeoso, 44, of Dallas, and Benhamin Ifebajo, 45, of Richardson, Texas, were arrested and charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy for allegedly assuming 12 fake identities and stealing $3.4 million from 37 victims across the U.S.

Two more individuals, Miami residents Yamel Guevara Tamayo, 36, and Yumeydi Govantes, 39, were indicted and arrested last June for an alleged BEC scheme in which $950,000 was stolen and laundered by money mules. Victims in this scam included title companies, corporations, and individuals.

In an investigation involving two Nigerian nationals, Emmanuel Igomu, 35, of Atlanta, and Jude Balogun, 29, of San Francisco, were arrested for allegedly receiving and transmitting funds sent as part of a BEC scheme that defrauded a Georgia-based health care provider out of $3.5 million.

Authorities also broke up a Nigeria-based BEC scheme that racked up hundreds of U.S. victims and caused over $10 million in losses. Arrested in this case were Cyril Ashu, 34, of Austell, Georgia.; Ifeanyi Eke, 32, of Sandy Springs, Georgia.; Joshua Ikejimba, 24, of Houston; and Chinedu Ironuah, 32, of Houston.

In addition to conducting the arrests, members of law enforcement also seized $3.7 million in assets. The operation is considered to be a follow-up to Operation Wire Wire, which led to the arrest of 74 alleged BEC scammers in 2018.

"The Department of Justice has increased efforts in taking aggressive enforcement action against fraudsters who are targeting American citizens and their businesses in business email compromise schemes and other cyber-enabled financial crimes,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen," in a DOJ press release. "Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable."

"The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens," said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the same release. "Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We'll keep coming after you, no matter where you are.  And to the public, we’ll keep doing whatever we can to protect you."

The various cases were investigated by the DOJ, the Department of Homeland Z Security. the Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the State Department and various federal and local D.A.'s offices. The U.S. coordinated with an array international partners as well, including the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; Ghana Police Service and Economic and Organized Crime Office; Turkish National Police Cyber Department; Direction Centrale de la Police aux Frontieres of France; Squadra Mobile Di Caserta and Italian National Police, National Police Agency of Japan; Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department; Royal Malaysian Police; Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) of Kenya; and the National Crime Agency, North Wales Police, Metropolitan Police Service and Hertfordshire Constabulary of the U.K.

Yesterday, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported in a public service announcement that between June 2016 and July 2019, it received complaints related to 166,349 domestic and international BEC or EAC (email account compromise) incidents that cumulatively resulted in over $26.2 billion in losses.

Bradley Barth

As director of community content at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for SC Media online conferences and events, as well as video/multimedia projects. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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