A worldwide sweep spearheaded by the DOJ has arrested 281 alleged email scammers, including 167 in Nigeria and 74 in the United States. This represents the largest coordinated action against online scammers yet undertaken.
Wired reports that the DOJ has announced the arrest of 281 individuals suspected to be connected to email scams and wire transfer fraud. The sweeping arrests were the biggest of its kind yet against digital scammers and shows law enforcement sense of urgency in dealing with the rapidly growing threat of online scams.
Tuesday’s law enforcement initiative, dubbed Operation reWired, involved extensive international coordination to make 167 arrests in Nigeria, 74 in the United States, 18 in Turkey, and 15 in Ghana. The remainder took place in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. Research and law enforcement investigations have shown that a large proportion of all email scamming originates in West Africa, specifically Nigeria, but the scams have spread, partly because some West African actors have moved around the world.
Wired notes that email scams have become widespread in the last few years and attacks have become increasingly sophisticated:
The scams feel so pervasive in part because they’re not always just basic email scams. They encompass a complex web of connections between traditional email scamming, W-2 tax fraud, check fraud, gift card scams, and more involved schemes.
For example, employment scammers trick people into submitting their personally identifying information to bogus job listings and then “hire” them for work-from-home jobs. They overpay them for their work, and then ask the victim to wire back the overage before the initial payment goes through. Similar bait-and-switch fraud centers on rentals, lottery tickets, and online car sales. In romance scams, attacks will spend months or even years establishing deceptive romantic relationships with victims online. They’ll then not only siphon their target’s money directly but use them as middlemen to transmit stolen funds
Wired adds that although the sudden arrest of 281 individuals seems like a big deal, due to the scale and popularity of digital scams it may not have as big an effect as many may thing:
“Will it make a dent? It’s really hard to say,” says Crane Hassold, senior director of threat research at Agari who previously worked as a digital behavior analyst for the FBI, of the arrests. “There are so many actors doing BEC and other types of social engineering scams—there could be thousands, especially in West Africa—that it’s going to be difficult to make a significant impact overall.”
Read the full report in Wired here.