Nigerian socialite Ray Hushpuppi arrested over $35 million Covid-19 internet fraud

A Dubai-based Nigerian socialite and alleged online scammer, Ray Hushpuppi, has been nabbed by INTERPOL officers. He was reportedly arrested together with his colleague known by the name, Woodberry, in Dubai, UAE.

According to media reports, the two were ‘surrounded by INTERPOL and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers on the grounds of being fraud suspects’.

Hushpuppi and his colleagues were accused of exploiting Covid-19 benefits programme to scam the US government by diverting benefits meant for unemployed victims. The group reportedly stole over $35 million meant for unemployed beneficiaries.

(TOP: Ray Hushpuppi, real name Ramon Olorunwa Abbas or Raymond Igbalodely according to media reports).

Overall however, reports suggest that Hushpuppi’s online fraud gang could have defrauded American states and tax payers of close to $100 million.

According to PageOne, an online new website in Nigeria, no one knows Hushpuppi’s real name, even though his profile on another site in Nigeria Legit says he is called Raymond Igbalodely, born on June 14. His other aliases are Aja 4 and Aja Puppi.

“To get a better perspective on the alleged scam Hushpuppi was accused of, last week, we reported that the US Secret Service had issued an alert about a massive operation to file fraudulent unemployment claims in states around the country, like Washington and Massachusetts. Officials attributed the activity to Nigerian scammers and said millions of dollars had already been stolen,” reported PageOne.

Research done to establish the key actors behind the scams and how the operation works by Agari, an email security firm, led to a collective called Scattered Canary, a full-service business email compromise (or BEC) operation that uses scams like email impersonation and phishing to manipulate businesses into paying out phony contracts and other fake invoices. Scattered Canary then uses a network of money mules within the US and globally to route the money.

According to the report quoted by Wired, Scattered Canary has committed fraud using loopholes in US unemployment benefit scheme running into several thousands of dollars. The gang uses several techniques including BEC whereby they set up one generic-looking Gmail address and then make accounts to submit fraudulent claims adding periods into different parts of the address. Most web platforms will interpret all of these as different email accounts, while Gmail doesn’t recognize periods as changing its own addresses.

In this way, the scammers can file dozens of individual submissions under as many people’s names, using their specific personal information, while managing it all from one centralized email account. One campaign the Agari researchers analyzed used 259 variations of the same address.

Agari detected that an actor within the Nigerian cybercriminal group Scattered Canary is filing fraudulent unemployment claims and receiving benefits from multiple states, while also receiving Cares payouts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in (scam) payments.

“Regular unemployment, the extra $600 per week that out-of-work Americans can claim during the pandemic, plus the one-time $1,200 payment eligible adults are receiving under the Cares Act are all vulnerable targets for cybercriminals. In the midst of a pandemic and critical economic downturn, though, the theft of those benefits could have particularly dire consequences. The Secret Service warns that hundreds of millions of dollars could be lost to such scams just as states are running out of money to fund unemployment on their own,” notes Agari.

Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC, has in recent times clamped down hard on online scammers popularly called ‘Yahoo boys’. The EFCC is also collaborating with the FBI, leadingto major crime busts, an example being Obinwanne Okeke who was arrested in the US last year. Subsequent investigations in the US also led to the arrest of over 80 Nigerians in the US for several online scams.

Last year, EFCC nabbed Mompha, another online fraud suspect who also lived in Dubai. Mompha has since been banned from travelling abroad while standing trial in Nigeria for money laundering, fraud and operating an illegal forex bureau.


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