Beware, Nigerian princes are using Bitcoin and VPN now

by James A. Bacon

Nigerian scam artists are improving their game. Ten or twenty years ago, they bombarded the Internet with stories of African potentates and lost fortunes that only the preferred email recipient could help recover … if they first provided a small bank deposit. There were so many of these funny letters that they made up their own literary genre. I saved literally dozens of them with the thought that one day they might be worth packing in a book, but in a fit of madness, I deleted them all to clean up my computer. I hope someone else saved them for posterity.

Sadly (literally), the wave of emails ended almost as suddenly as it started when Americans got wise and law enforcement was cracked down. But Nigerian scam artists haven’t disappeared, it seems. Always resilient, they reinvented themselves for the cyber age.

And Virginia Commonwealth University was a victim, having transferred $ 470,000 in the belief that it was paying the bills to construction company Kjellstrom and Lee. In August, a man with dual British and Nigerian citizenship, Olabanji Oladotun Egbinola, was extradited to the United States in connection with the case. The latest wrinkle on the news is that a Los Angeles-based businessman has been indicted on a money laundering charge.

The United States Department of Justice

summarizes the case as follows:

Egbinola and the co-conspirators created and used a fraudulent email account that incorporated the name of a construction company that had a large pending contract with the university. Using this email account, Egbinola and the co-conspirators tricked the university into transferring $ 469,819.49 to a bank account controlled by Egbinola and the co-conspirators. That money was quickly laundered and transferred overseas through numerous transactions. Evidence obtained during the investigation showed that Egginola repeatedly accessed the email account used to defraud the University of Virginia.

WRIC provides details. Using Rachel Moore’s name, the scammer convinced a VCU employee that the account that normally received payments from the university was under review and that the money should have been sent by wire transfer. Giving credibility to the scam, Nigerians used the “accounts @ kjellstromleegroup” email address, which resembled the company’s actual email address.

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VCU’s bank contacted the university two weeks after the transfer with concerns that the transaction was fraudulent. It soon turned out that Kjellstrom and Lee had no employees named Rachel Moore and had not requested a transfer. Egbinola had set up a series of “similar” email addresses, paying with bitcoins and obscuring their IP addresses using a verified proxy network or VPN. FBI agents were able to trace the source of the emails that initiated the scam. Agents then sent an email address made to appear as if it came from a VCU account, trace the fraud to Egginola. Like this scam the scammer.

Bacon’s bottom line. Ah, what a waste of talent. If only the scammers exploited their creativity forever. In the meantime, always be vigilant about “similar” URLs and email addresses.

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