The fakery started before they entered the U.S., prosecutors say.
Opeyemi Adeoso said he wanted to visit his father’s grave in New York when he applied for a non-immigrant visa, an FBI complaint said. Benjamin Ifebajo claimed on his visa application that he planned to attend a wedding in Texas, the complaint said. And Temitope Folorunsho said the purpose of her travel to Texas was to visit her aunt, according to the complaint.
But when the three were granted visas and came to the U.S., they began an elaborate cybercrime scheme based in Dallas to scam American companies into wiring them over $3 million, federal authorities say. They allegedly used fake foreign passports to open at least 50 bank accounts.
FBI surveillance teams noticed Adeoso and Ifebajo park and walk as much as 500 yards to access ATM machines so their vehicles wouldn’t be captured on bank video cameras, the complaint said. They and Folorunsho were indicted in federal court in Dallas on Sept. 24.
Adeoso, 44, Ifebajo, 45, and Folorunsho, 32, were among almost 300 people arrested last month in a worldwide crackdown on a type of cybercrime in which criminals trick corporate employees and lonely women into wiring them large sums of money. More than 70 of the arrests were made in the U.S. Other defendants were picked up in Europe, Africa and Asia.
It’s called a business email compromise scheme, and it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing financial crimes due to the ease in which it’s pulled off. Perpetrators need only a computer to get started. Stolen identities are for sale on the Dark Web. Bitcoin is the currency of choice, to hide one’s tracks.
Nearly $1.3 billion was reported stolen in 2018 from the scam and its variants, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3. Almost twice as much as was reported the prior year.
Adeoso, Ifebajo and Folorunsho are charged in a Dallas-based federal indictment with wire and bank fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and use of a false passport.
Adeoso’s attorney, Gregg Gallian, said about his client: “It is still very early in the process, and we ask that everyone reserve their opinions and judgments until all of the evidence comes to light.”
A defense attorney for Ifebajo did not respond to requests for comment. No attorney has been listed yet for Florunsho.
Ashemuke is accused in a complaint of wire fraud. He has not been indicted. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The law enforcement roundup, called Operation Rewired, also involved so-called “romance scams,” a variant of the email scheme in which criminals pose as someone desirable to seduce their victims online and trick them into sending them money, usually with an elaborate fake story for good measure.
Another defendant, Emmanuel Ashemuke, was arrested around the same time as the others and is charged in Dallas with scamming multiple women in the U.S., Great Britain and Australia out of a total of about $1 million. Ashemuke, who entered the U.S. on a marriage visa, posed as a middle-aged American businessman working on deep sea oil rigs when he met his female victims online, a criminal complaint said.
“We will continue to work with our international, federal and state partners to pursue all those responsible for perpetrating this fraud, preying on innocent victims and attempting to cheat the U.S. out of millions of dollars,” said Don Fort, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, in a statement.
Adeoso entered the U.S. in October 2014, nine days after his marriage was “dissolved” in Nigeria, the FBI complaint said.
He did not return to Nigeria the following month as scheduled, the feds say. Six months later, he married a U.S. citizen, who then filed a petition for her new husband’s permanent status, according to the FBI.
Adeoso, who lived in an apartment on Skillman Street, began opening bank accounts under fake names as early as June 2015, the FBI complaint said.
Bank records show that Adeoso was wiring money to Nigeria and that his ex-wife there began depositing money into her accounts in 2015.
Ifebajo, a friend of Adeoso, entered the U.S. in October 2015, according to the FBI.
Both men listed an apartment on Forest Lane as their address.
Ifebajo also did not return to Nigeria when scheduled, the FBI said.
Folorunsho entered the U.S. on her visa in June 2016 in New York, the indictment said. She did not return later that month, as scheduled, according to the indictment. She was being detained in Arkansas as of Sept 24 and had not yet been transferred to Dallas, court records say.
Ashemuke, 29, met Lori Curtis, 51, on Facebook in 2013 and the two were married in Nigeria, according to a criminal complaint.
He entered the U.S. on the marriage visa in November 2015 and moved in with Curtis in Stephenville, southwest of Fort Worth, the complaint said.
Women across the country, who ranged in age from 48 to 78, began sending money to bank accounts controlled by the couple beginning in July 2014, the complaint said.
“Each victim was contacted by a stranger via social media websites on the internet such as Facebook,” the complaint said.
The person communicated with his victims almost daily to gain their trust and affection and then asked for money to be sent to Ashemuke or Curtis, the complaint said.
Curtis’ attorney declined to comment.
The complaint said, for example, that someone using the persona of Joseph Powell on the internet dating website OK Cupid convinced a victim that he was an American businessman from Maryland who worked as an “oil engineer on a platform near Dubai.”
Powell asked the woman for money in early 2015 to pay his work crew on the oil rig, “saying that he feared for his life if he did not pay them.”
He convinced the victim to sell her childhood home, for which she earned $23,000, the complaint said. Powell then told her to deposit $20,000 into a bank account opened by Curtis, who he described as the mother of a crewmember who would get the money to him, the complaint said.
When Curtis got the money, she wired it to Ashmuke’s bank account in Nigeria, the complaint said.
Curtis’ bank accounts received about $312,700 from 12 victims from July 2014 to January 2016, according to the complaint. Ashemuke received about $974,300 from another 17 victims using the same scheme, the FBI says.
Ashemuke told federal agents in January that he wired the money to Nigeria for a friend, and that he received a 10 percent commission on each transaction, the complaint said.