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Romance and BEC scammer sentenced to 25 years over $9.5 million fraud

A Georgia man was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy in connection to an international digital fraud network that included business email compromise (BEC) attacks and romance scams, the U.S. Justice Department announced Monday.

Elvis Eghosa Ogiekpolor’s operation scammed over $9.5 million and worked with eight “money mules” to open more than 50 fraudulent businesses to launder funds.

The scams relied on a variety of common techniques — one involved tricking people into fake online relationships and conning them out of money. Thirteen victims of these romance scams testified at his trial.

In one case, a victim was convinced to send nearly $70,000 to an account she connected with over eHarmony, ostensibly for business expenses. In another, a victim wired over $32,000 because her fake beau claimed he needed it to replace an oil rig part — borrowing against her retirement and needing to refinance her home to eventually pay it back.

The BEC scams run by the operation included spoof emails sent to employees of multiple companies tricking them into sending large payments to accounts controlled by Ogiekpolor rather than long-standing vendors.

“There is no way we can make the victims of Ogiekpolor and this network whole again, but we hope this sentence will at least give them solace that people are being held accountable,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta in a press release.

The FBI and Federal Trade Commission have both warned of a rise in romance scams in recent years, often with sophisticated criminal organizations  targeting vulnerable people — such as widows and widowers. The scams are now the most common type of fraud reported to the FTC and cost victims at least $1.3 billion over the last five years.

“Ogiekpolor and his co-conspirators were part of a broader international network of online fraudsters and money launderers who wreaked havoc and devastation on unsuspecting individuals and businesses,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan.

Five other members of Ogiekpolor’s network have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

(they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.