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Federal prosecutors charge 10 suspects for running Nigerian 419 scam

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March 8, 2011

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. have charged ten suspects of bilking $1.5 million out of potential victims throughout the United States with an advanced fee fraudulent scheme that promised generous but faked inheritances if they paid money up front to facilitate the numerous wire transfers.

The alleged leader of the group was 25 year-old Claudio Dibe of Gardena, California, prosecutors said. In February, he was extradited from Canada, where he fled in 2009 after learning he was under investigation. He is charged with no less than fifteen counts of wire fraud for his part of the operation, which prosecutors said involved sending large quantities of email spam to thousands of potential victims.

The investigators also charged Bright Amesi, 25, of Gardena as well, along with Briceson Loving, 25, of Lawndale. They were each charged with fifteen counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Dibe, Amesi and Loving appeared in federal court in Los Angeles yesterday and entered pleas of not guilty. Seven additional defendants living in Southern California and New York City were also indicted on ten counts of wire fraud each.

Four of them have pleaded not guilty and the other three are scheduled to be arraigned March 16.

The defendants are all accused of running a classic 'Nigerian 419 scheme', in which email senders pose as attorneys, diplomats and so-called government officials who are overseeing the disbursement of millions of dollars in various inheritances.

The emails claim the recipients are the distant relatives of wealthy people who have recently died. They say that all the recipient has to do to receive the money is to pay small costs up front to "get the process started."

The defendants allegedly asked for small amounts of money initially and once they are paid, the defendants demanded increasingly larger amounts, as much as $35,000, prosecutors said.

According to U.S. federal prosecutors, one of the accused scammers wrote in an email that one victim “is insisting that he does not have more money, though I believe he will be able to come up with money. I believe that he will pay big money, which is what we are all after.”

Dibe is being held without bond, and faces up to fifteen to twenty years in a U.S. federal prison, plus a $250,000 fine. The other nine defendants each face from five to ten years in federal jail, plus fines between $100,000 and $150,000 each.

Last week, a nineteen year old teenager residing in the United Kingdon who ran a prolific cybercrime forum from home has been sent to prison for a period of five years for using unauthorized or stolen credit cards he took from the Internet.

Nick Webber maintained the forum which featured about 8,040 memberships and which help commit a range of cybercrimes including the sale of stolen credit card and personal details to other Internet users.

Police officials recovered the complete details of thousands of credit cards from Webber's three computers when he was arrested in October 2009 after trying to use a counterfeit credit card to pay for a hotel stay. Confronted by lots of incriminating evidence, Webber pleaded guilty to cyberfraud.

The U.K. Court heard that members of the illicit group may have defrauded other banks and individuals anywhere between £ 12 million and £ 20 million. In court, was described as a supermarket for cybercrooks, providing guides on how to commit cybercrimes as well as a marketplace for stolen wares.

The personal details of around 65,000 victims were also traded throughout the website.

Worse-- even after his release on bail, Webber continued to engage in cybercrime, an aggravating feature that led to a far tougher Court sentence than might otherwise have been the case had he conducted himself in a more repentant way.

Three other suspects were also convicted in the same case. Gary Kelly, 21, from Manchester, was also jailed for five years after he also pleaded guilty to the same fraud charges as Webber along with conspiracy to make or supply articles for use in cyberfraud and conspiracy to cause unauthorized modification to computers.

And Ryan Thomas, 18, from Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, who acted as the site admin for was also jailed for a slightly lesser sentence-- four years.

Shakira Ricardo, 21, from Swansea, was imprisoned for 1 1/2 year after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and handling criminal property.

Both Webber and Thomas jumped bail soon after their initial arrests in December 2009 before they were captured in Majorca and returned to the U.K. They now face additional charges as a result, such as jumping bail and fleeing the country.

In other Internet security news, a small group of Chinese hackers were successful in fooling Canadian federal IT staff into providing sensitive information as well as giving them access to government computers, leading to severe Internet restrictions at the Treasury Board and the Finance Department in Ottawa.

The news was also reported by other news outlets. Although the Canadian government has so far offered little information on the security breach, CBC added that the attack cut off Internet access for thousands of public servants, although service has slowly been returning to normal in the past week.

There has been no confirmation so far that Canadians’ personal information or other sensitive data has been compromised or lost, but there appears to be a full-scale investigation currently going on.

In what the CBC described as an executive spear-phishing attempt, the group of hackers used bogus e-mails to pass themselves off as senior executives to IT staff at the two federal departments and request passwords, while other staff received emails with virus-laden attachments.

In response to various media reports, the Canadian Treasury Board issued a brief statement admitting it had detected an unauthorized attempt to access its networks, but provided no additional details. “Employee access to the Internet has been limited for the time being,” said spokesman Jay Denny.

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Source: The U.S. Justice Dept.

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