An Atlanta man faces a stiff sentence this week following his conviction for the role he played in a phishing scam that defrauded customers of several major financial institutions out of some $1.5 million.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey, Osarhieme Uyi Obaygbona, 32, was convicted June 27 of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft, and conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to protected computers .
Obaygbona faces a maximum total penalty of 50 years in prison and fines of $1 million, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is currently scheduled for October 17.
In a week-long trial, the prosecution stated that Obaygbona, Marvin Hill, and Alphonsus Osuala were provided with stolen personal information by Waya Nwaki, who received them from Karlis Karklins, a Latvian national who worked with defendant Charles Umeh Chidi and others to deploy phishing websites across the Internet.
According to court documents, Obaygbona, Nwaki, Hill, Osuala, and others used the stolen identifiers to make unauthorized withdrawals from victims’ accounts. Some of the stolen identifiers were used to create fake driver’s licenses, with which conspirators could impersonate victims at bank branches, including Chase Bank and Bank of America. The scheme also used the stolen identifiers to gain access to the victims’ online accounts, where Obaygbona, Nwaki, and Hill could view victim signatures on check images and then forge checks and withdrawal slips.
In a second variation of the scheme, Karklins used stolen identifiers to gain access to payroll accounts at ADP, the New Jersey-based payroll processor, prosecutors said. Karklins and others added fake employees to victim companies’ payrolls and then caused paychecks to be issued to those fake employees. Karklins, Nwaki, Hill, and others then withdrew the fraudulent payroll amounts using both stolen identifiers and unwitting intermediaries ("mules").
As part of the scheme, more than $300,000 in fraudulent payroll was wired to defendant Olaniyi Jones, a Nigerian national who impersonated a European woman interested in romantic relationships to dupe mules into wiring the proceeds of the scheme overseas, court records state.
Chase Bank, Bank of America, ADP, and Branch Bank & Trust Co. lost a total of $1.5 million to the fraud ring.
Nwaki and Hill have both pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing before Judge Martini. Osuala is in custody on unrelated federal charges in Georgia. Jones is detained in Nigeria pending extradition. Karklins and Chidi are at large.
The scope of these phishing attacks hit consumers hard, but businesses should not overlook the fact that many attackers are targeting enterprise users, noted Aaron Higbee, CTO and co-founder of PhishMe, which offers a service that helps users learn to recognize and avoid phishing attacks.
"I worry that a majority of our workforce may think that all phishing attacks are aimed at their personal banking accounts," Higbee said. "The message about targeted and crafty spear phishing emails heading to work email inboxes gets lost in the noise of phishing stories -- and readers miss that just clicking a dangerous link can compromise their work computer."
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