The United States has arrested six alleged members of an international fraud and money-laundering ring that deployed spoofing, catfishing, and COVID-19 relief scams to con victims out of $55m.
The defendants are accused of creating fake identities to trick companies, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and old folks searching for romance online into wiring funds to bank accounts controlled by a criminal enterprise.
Thirty-five-year-old Farouk Appiedu was arrested on October 18 in Queens, New York. His alleged co-conspirator 24-year-old Sadick Edusei Kissi was arrested on February 5 in Fargo, North Dakota. The four remaining defendants—Celvin Freeman, 37, Faisal Ali, 34, Fred Asante, 35, and Lord Aning, 28—were all arrested on February 17; Freeman and Ali in New Jersey, and Asante and Aning in Alexandria, Virginia.
From 2013 to 2020, the defendants were allegedly members of a criminal enterprise based in Ghana that unloaded a series of business email compromise (BEC) scams, COVID-19 fraud, and romance scams on companies and individuals in the US.
Money fraudulently obtained via these schemes was sent to Ghana though the purchase of luxury cars and food products that were subsequently shipped overseas.
One ruse involved assuming fake identities to contact senior singles via email, text messaging, or online dating websites. Victims were led to believe they were in a genuine romantic relationship before being hit up for financial help.
Collectively, the defendants allegedly controlled more than 45 bank accounts containing over $55m.
“A vast majority of the deposits consisted of large wire transfers and check or cash deposits from various US-based individuals and entities that were victims of fraud schemes of the enterprise,” said the Department of Justice.
“The fraud schemes alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous. As alleged, they engaged in email spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded Coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefit of small businesses affected by the pandemic,” said Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss.
“Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore—the website for the Bureau of Prisons.”