DOJ Arrests Hundreds in Massive Email Scam Sweep

By Grace Austin
Inside Subprime: November 5

The Department of Justice has arrested hundreds of people across several countries in a major scam and fraud bust that authorities say has cost consumers billions of dollars.

Federal authorities are pursuing a vast digital scammer network that scams people out of money through email, and, in some cases, uses people acting as “money mules” to wire money back to the suspected criminals, or launder the funds. Most of the arrests were made in Nigeria, almost 75 in the United States, more than a dozen in Turkey and Ghana, and the rest scattered throughout the world, in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom.

Dubbed “Operation reWired,” the DOJ said this series of arrests occurred over four months across 10 countries. It’s reportedly the largest bust of its kind. Nearly $3.7 million was seized by authorities, and 281 suspects were arrested. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury, the State Department, and the Postal Inspection Service all contributed to the operation. The operation also involved multiple international and local authorities to coordinate arrests. 

Investigators have shown that many of these scams originate in Nigeria and West Africa, then spread across the world. According to the DOJ, many of the victims of such scams are senior citizens or business owners. The “business email compromise schemes,” as the DOJ calls them, encompass a variety of fraud — romance scams, employment opportunity scams, phony online car sales scams, rental scams, and even lottery scams.

For example, lottery scams trick people into paying fees before they can receive a lottery windfall. Romance scams can occur over months as the scammer manipulates the target into giving them money by building an online relationship. 

In a rental sale scam, a fraudster agrees to rent a property, sends a bad check with an overpayment for the security deposit, and requests the excess money be returned through a wire transfer before the check bounces. 

“In unraveling this complex, nationwide identity theft and tax fraud scheme, we discovered that the conspirators stole more than 250,000 identities and filed more than 10,000 fraudulent tax returns, attempting to receive more than $91 million in refunds,” said Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation in a DOJ press release. “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.”

The DOJ has been actively attacking these email scams and their perpetrators. Not long before the announcement of Operation reWired in September 2019, authorities said they indicted 80 suspects, mainly Nigerian nationals, and arrested 14 individuals, in relation to a similar email scam and money laundering scheme. In 2018, the Justice Department also arrested dozens in another email scam operation. 

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