Nigerian email scams have been ongoing for more than a decade and in that time have morphed, spread, and evolved from simple pleas for money from consumers to highly targeted schemes going after multi-million companies. And though law enforcement agencies have been following them for years, arrests and indictments related to these scams are still rare.
A Nigerian man who has been sitting in jail in Dallas for the last four months is one of the few alleged criminals to suffer that fate. Amechi Colvis Amuegbunam is a Nigerian citizen and has been living in the United States on a student visa, but according to the FBI, he wasn’t doing much in the way of studying. Amuegbunam was part of a long-running email fraud scheme that targeted businesses and attempted to trick employees into wiring large sums of money–sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars–to accounts controlled by the fraudsters, according to the FBI.
The scam ran for nearly two years, until August 2015, when Amuegbunam was arrested and put in prison, where has has remained since. While many scams of this kind involve relatively small amounts being stolen, the FBI says that the scheme Amuegbunam allegedly was involved in took in more than $1.3 million.
The scam ran for nearly two years, until August 2015, when Amuegbunam was arrested and put in prison.
The arrest of Amuegbunam is part of a larger FBI investigation into money laundering and wire fraud that involves both U.S. and Nigerian citizens and uses many of the same techniques that have become all too familiar and effective in recent years. The schemes typically begin with the attackers doing research on a potential target organization, trying to determine the organizational structure, executives’ names and responsibilities, and the company’s partners and suppliers. Once that’s done, the criminals then will craft emails that may appear to come from a partner or company executive, and are targeted at employees who have authority to transfer funds from company accounts.
The emails often will look like invoices or wire transfer requests and will come from email addresses that are spoofed to look legitimate. In two instances related to the Amuegbunam case, the FBI said employees in targeted companies received emails that appeared to be forwarded from company executives. Employees at both companies were fooled by the emails and sent the requested money, more than $100,000 in each case.
The FBI has been warning businesses about these scams in various forms for a long time and in August the bureau issued a renewed alert about email scams, saying that U.S. businesses had a total exposed loss of nearly $750 million since 2013.
Amuegbunam is facing up to 30 years in jail as a result of his alleged involvement in the scheme.