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Nigerians Sentenced to Prison in U.S. Over Massive Fraud Scheme

Three Nigerian nationals have been handed prison sentences totaling 235 years by a U.S. court for their role in a massive international online scheme that involved romance scams, identity theft, fraud and money laundering.

The suspects, extradited to the United States from South Africa in July 2015, are Oladimeji Seun Ayelotan, 30, who was sentenced to 95 years in prison, Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, 31, who was sentenced to 115 years, and Femi Alexander Mewase, 45, who received a 25-year sentence.

They were found guilty in early 2017 of committing mail fraud, wire fraud, credit card fraud, identity theft, and theft of government property. Two of them were also found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and money laundering.

U.S. authorities have charged 21 individuals in this case, including from Nigeria, South Africa, Wisconsin, California and New York. Eleven members of the conspiracy have been sentenced, including Teslim Olarewaju Kiriji, a 30-year-old Nigerian man believed to be one of the leaders of the conspiracy. Kiriji was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while the others received 10 years or less. Many of the remaining suspects have already pleaded guilty to various charges.

According to the Department of Justice, the defendants have been involved in Internet scams since at least 2001, with intended losses totaling tens of millions of dollars.

The scheme often started with a romance scam targeting U.S. citizens, who were tricked into believing that they were in a romantic relationship with a persona made up by the scammers.

Once they gained the victim’s trust, the perpetrators asked them to send money or help carry out various activities, such as laundering money via Western Union and MoneyGram, cashing counterfeit checks, and reshipping items purchased with stolen credit cards. The scammers also used stolen personal information to take control of bank accounts.

Authorities have published a list of email addresses and names used in this operation, urging other potential victims to come forward.

Related: Spain Smashes Nigerian 'CEO Swindle' Scammer Network

Related: Nigerian Cybercriminals Target Firms Worldwide in BEC Campaign

Related: Nigerian Behind $60 Million Online Fraud Network Arrested

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.