Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and also the continent’s most populous country also happens to be the world’s capital of online scams. Just like many people think of Mexico whenever drug cartels are mentioned, online scams have become synonymous with Nigeria. It is fair to say that scammers come from all corners of the world, but the FBI and other investigative agencies around the world have tracked billions in online scam payments to Nigeria leading to the country’s bad reputation. The authorities have captured some of the scammers over the years but it hasn’t helped much since new ones keep popping up every day. These 10 were identified and most of them were indicted and are now considered the face of this evil side of Nigeria.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas (Hushpuppi)
You would expect someone that makes a living by scamming people to try and maintain a low profile but not this one. Hushpuppi was a celebrity with over 2 million followers on Instagram where he showed off his expensive lifestyle. He posed online with fast cars, designer jewellery and everything the rest of us only see on TV, claiming to be a real estate mogul and an Instagram influencer who rose from grass to grace in Nigeria.
In a real sense, Ramon Abbas was the leader of a scam network that specialized in Business Email Compromise scamming (BECs). His large life actually gave him away when the FBI linked his email to a scam that had stolen $15 million from a small paralegal in Chicago. He had also laundered money for other scammers and had most of his illegally earned money’s converted to cryptocurrency before being spent on his lavish lifestyle. Charges against him have continued to mount since his arrest including being accused of laundering money for North Korean hackers.
Olalekan Jacob Ponle
Ponle was Abbas’ student and an accomplice who wasn’t spared when the crackdown started in July 2020. He was part of the scheme that defrauded US companies of millions in BEC scams. He also lived big and even posted on his Instagram saying, “Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you’ve acquired,” on his 29th birthday standing next to a yellow Lamborghini just before he was arrested. He was arrested by the Dubai authorities before being handed over to the FBI after the country banished him. He is also facing charges for laundering money for North Koreans and stealing money from a bank in Malta.
In 2016, Okeke became a celebrity after he was featured on the 30 Under 30 African Entrepreneurs posing as this inventor who had made a fortune by making low-cost environment-friendly housing all over Africa. His construction business was discovered to be nothing other than a money-laundering business for his actual career which was online romance scams and BECs just like Hushpuppi. He was arrested in 2019 in Virginia where he pled guilty on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud. He was part of a scheme that stole over $11 million from a US company.
Emmanuel Nwude bankrupted the Brazilian Bank named Banko Noroeste after convincing the manager to invest $242 million in the alleged construction of an airport in Abuja the capital of Nigeria. Nwude was just a scammer posing as the Governor of the central bank of Nigeria and there was no airport under construction. His scam is still considered one of the largest bank frauds in history.
Despite pleading guilty to the charges against him in 2004, Nwude only served 2 years in prison instead of the 25 he was sentenced to and after his release, sued the authorities in Nigeria to return over $160 million worth of his ill-gotten wealth that had been seized. He has continued to evade justice and now serves as a town president in his local town.
US citizens are not the only victims of online romance scams, Australians pay huge amounts of money to these thieves too. Bidemi Bakari was captured in a sting operation in Malaysia after scamming an Australian woman whose brother then deployed the help of 60 Minutes Australian News network to catch the scammer. Bakari and his friends were in Malaysia, claiming to be students when their key business was actually scamming. After being arrested, Bakare’s face was displayed to the world as he knelt begging in a Malaysian police cell on camera.
Despite taking much credit for taking down this scammer and his global network, the FBI never released his true identity. The man was arrested in the Nigerian City f Port Harcourt with the efforts of the Nigerian police, Interpol and the FBI. It was only revealed that he was called Mike and that he was a 40-year-old Nigerian. He was arrested after pulling off a BEC scam worth $15.4 million in 2016. It was discovered that he had a deep network of Romance and BEC scammers working for him and that he had received over $60 million over the years.
The Black Axes
Ikechukwu “Ike” Amadi, a dual Nigerian Canadian citizen was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2019 after being convicted for receiving money from victims of online romance scams and fake check scams in the US. His trial revealed that he was part of a network of scammers known as the Black Axes which started as a fraternal organization in Nigerian Universities in the 70s. Some members went on to become online scammers with romance scams as their major specialization.
The organization was believed to have scammed Americans over $10 million in 2019 alone and was also linked to the suicide of a Canadian woman who sold everything and even fell into debt while sending money to her alleged lover that she met online. The group operates from different countries around the world so even after dozens of its members were arrested in the US, the bulk of it is believed to be functional online.
In August 2019, the FBI indicted 78 Nigerians in one of the largest crackdowns involving online scams in history. The 78 were all members of a BEC and romance scam network that tried to pull off one huge scam worth over $40 million. The FBI had started investigating the group in 2016 when they started connecting links between the individuals.
Iro was the most widely mentioned in the group after he was accused of having conned a Japanese woman into sending him over $200,000 after posing as a US serviceman trying to smuggle diamonds from Syria. He also conned one elderly person in the UK into sending him over $90,000. By the time of his arrest, it was estimated that he and his network had stolen over $6 million and they were attempting to steal $40 million more.
Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe
Igbokwe was the second defendant charged as the accomplice of Valentine Iro in the case involving the 78 Nigerians in 2019. It wasn’t clear how much he personally received from the scheme but he was at the heart of the network when the arrest went down.
Seun Banjo Ojedokun
Ojedokun was sentenced to 20 years in a Maryland court in 2016 after he was found guilty of money laundering, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud among other crimes. The saddest part of the 6-day trial was the faces of his victims. Many people came forward after their contacts were discovered on the scammer’s phones and 6 of the mostly elderly victims had wired over $1 million to the romance scammer.
He was believed to be the head of an online romance scam syndicate that targeted elderly people, mostly those who were divorced or had lost their spouses. Ojedokun’s doomed syndicate also employed unsuspecting Americans to cash the checks of the fraudulent earnings and transfer the returns to him and his friends. After his conviction, most of his accomplices went dark and are still on the FBI most wanted list.