US arrests 33 BEC scammers linked to Nigerian crime syndicate
The FBI has arrested 33 individuals across Texas for a series of cybercrime-related activities, including BEC and romance scams.
The arrests, which took place last week, targeted individuals part of Black Axe, a transnational organized crime syndicate originating from Nigeria and operating across the globe.
Eleven suspects were charged in the Northern District of Texas and another 23 in the Eastern District, with one suspect charged in both districts.
Suspects stole more than $17 million
US officials said the group had been active since at least January 2017 and engaged in a wide range of fraudulent schemes, such as business email compromise (BEC), investor scams, and unemployment insurance fraud.
The suspects also engaged in online romance scams, operating on dating sites such as Match.com, ChistianMingle, JSwipe, and Plenty of Fish.
In total, authorities said the group stole and laundered more than $17 million, funds they acquired from at least 100 victims, according to court documents obtained by The Record.
Group tied to Black Axe gang
Sources familiar with the group's activities said the suspects were members of Black Axe, a known criminal syndicate tied to the Neo Black Movement, a college fraternity founded in the 1970s in Nigeria that slowly evolved into a secret society, cult, and confraternity across the country, and then spread across Africa and the world in recent years.
While NBM started out with the goals of fighting racisms in the once British colony, the group, just like other Nigerian confraternities, adopted violent tactics and started delving into criminal activity.
Currently, NBM's Black Axe is believed to be involved in prostitution, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, grand theft, money laundering, and cybercrime (mainly email fraud), according to a 2020 Interpol report [PDF].
NBM maintain that they do not have connections to Black Axe, however is essentially just a different name that acts as a nominal cover for the Black Axe confraternity.Nigerian Confraternities emerge as Business Email Compromise Threat, 2018, CrowdStrike report [PDF]
While members of the group have been arrested for cybercrime activities as far back as 2015, last week's US arrests represent the biggest crackdown against Black Axe's cybercrime operations.
The arrests also represent the second law enforcement crackdown against the group's cybercrime operations this year, after Italian police also arrested 30 Black Axe members in April.
Furthermore, the Black Axe arrests in the US represent the second crackdown against an international crime syndicate's cybercrime operations. Just days before, Spanish and Italian police arrested 106 members of four Italian mafia organizations on cybercrime-related charges such as SIM swapping, BEC scams, phishing, and money laundering.
The suspects arrested and charged in the Northern District of Texas include:
- David Animashaun, 38 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Oluwalobamise Michael Moses, 40 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Irabor Fatarr Musa, 51 – arrested in the Eastern District of Texas, charged by the Northern District of Texas wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ijeoma Okoro, 31 – arrested in DFW, wire fraud conspiracy fraud, money laundering conspiracy
- Chukwemeka Orji, 36 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Emanuel Stanley Orji, 35 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Frederick Orji, 37 – arrested in Dallas, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Uwadiale Esezobor, 36 – arrested in Lubbock, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Victor Idowu, 36 – arrested in Los Angeles, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Afeez Abiola Alao, 37 – wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ambrose Sunday Ohide, 47 – wire fraud conspiracy
The suspects arrested and charged in the Eastern District of Texas include:
- Kingsley Ita, aka "Baron" "Sifk," 42, of Dallas;
- Irabor Fatarr Musa, aka "Fatai" "Head JJ," 51, of Richardson;
- Solomon Esekheigbe, 48, of Katy;
- Sandra Iribhogbe Popnen, aka “General,” 46, of Allen;
- Edgal Iribhogbe, aka “Oseme,” 50, of Allen;
- Damilola Kumapayi, aka "Luke Morris," 33, of Dallas;
- Ehiedu Onyeagwu, aka "Young," 58, of Rosedale, Maryland;
- Mathew Okpu, 57, of Temple Hille, Maryland;
- Benedicta Atakare, 46, of Temple Hills, Maryland;
- Segun Adeoye, 47, of Pearland;
- Chidindu Okeke, aka "Steve," 28, of Richmond;
- Ngozi Okeke, 47, of Katy;
- Nosoregbe Asemota, aka “Patrick Asemota,” 46, of Melissa;
- Chigozi Ekwenugo, 53, of Grand Prairie;
- Bukola Obaseki, 48, of Allen;
- Stella Hadome, 43, of Allen;
- Jequita Batchelor, 37, of Farmers Branch;
- Osaretin Eghaghe, aka “Biggie,” 37, of Plano;
- Ejiro Ohwovoriole, 29, of McKinney;
- Isaac Asare, aka “Asarko,” 48, of Houston;
- Gold Ude, 44, of Wylie;
- Henrietha Oziegbe, 23, of Lexington, Kentucky; and
- Kingsly Oziegbe, 25, of Edinburg.
Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.