Scammers rarely get caught, but the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has sentenced seven defendants who are clearly maestros of online fraud. Romance scams through online dating sites? Yes! Check fraud? You betcha. Bogus secret shopper schemes, and fake personal assistant work-from-home schemes, and mystery shopper schemes? Well of course.
One of the crew is from Nigeria, land of the “Lads from Lagos,” who are still erstwhile in asking gullible Americans to move large sums of cash for their purported bureaucrats and purported members of the royal family—as they have done for going on 20 years now. Now the African nation can lay claim to a more diversified portfolio. Checks were sent to marks in the US, and the dupes were then asked to launder the money by sending cash on to Nigeria. In reality though, they got taken to the cleaners.
The rest of the fraudsters are from Mississippi, Texas and California—they were tasked with sending bum checks with mystery shopper and personal assistant instructions to their targets. The victims were instructed to deposit the checks and then wire money to Nigeria. When the checks bounced, the victims were on the hook to their banks for the amount of the checks, and bank fees, all totaling hundreds of dollars in each instance.
I’m left with one just question—who in their right mind believes the word of some random person sending a broadcast email (and I’ll bet the message opened with “Dear Sir/Madam”) asking them to wire cash to someone they don’t know in Africa (Africa? No red flag there, at all.) Be they desperate, dumb or both, the number of victims was clearly sufficiently high to sustain what the DoJ calls a “large-scale international financial fraud conspiracy.” What the heck, people? And since when does a request for what is obviously money laundering sound like a great idea? "Please deposit this then draw it back out and send it to me—that's known as money laundering, peeps. Maybe there should be a class on this in high school or something.
Oh and get this: Some of the defendants started as romance scam victims before later becoming knowing participants in the counterfeit check fraud. Guess they just couldn’t get enough.
Well this iteration of the fun and game is over for a while, at any rate. Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tenn. each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property and one count of use of mail and an interstate facility to distribute proceeds of a racketeering activity. They were each sentenced to 120 months in prison.
Ann Louise Franzen, 70, of Kiln, Miss.; Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, Calif.; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, Calif.; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, Calif. all previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property. They were sentenced to 60 months in prison.
All admitted to wrongdoing in their plea agreements.
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