Guilty: The $1.2 million email scammers who claimed to have throat cancer

January 31, 2008 Sophos Press Release

Email scams attempt to fool innocent computer users out of their savings
Email scams attempt to fool innocent computer users out of their savings

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have reminded internet users to be on their guard against email scams as three men pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1.2 million.

The federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York heard the men admit to charges that they targeted computer users by pretending they had won millions of dollars in a lottery or were due to inherit a fortune. In one of the more elaborate scams perpetrated by the gang, the men also sent emails which claimed to come from a victim of terminal throat cancer who wanted to distribute $55 million to charity. One of the gang, Nnamdi Chizuba Ainsiobi, is then said to have telephoned recipients, disguising his voice to pretend he was that suffering from the disease.

31-year-old Ainsiobi (who went by pseudonyms such as "Yellowman" and "Jiggaman"), 34-year-old Anthony Friday Ehis (who sometimes called himself "Mr T"), and Kesandu Egwuonwu were arrested in Amsterdam two years ago, and subsequently extradited to the United States.

"Most people with an email account have probably received emails claiming that they have won a fortune, or asking them to enter a business relationship to move funds out of a country, but these are almost always con-tricks being perpetrated by unscrupulous scammers," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "It may be hard to believe that people fall for this type of crime, but sadly there are vulnerable and naive people out there who do hand over their information and money to criminals. These three men stole over $1.2 million with their scam emails, proving that there are still plenty of people waiting to have their bank accounts emptied by criminals on the net."

A statement from the Department of Justice
The US Department of Justice published information about the men's crimes.

Anisiobi and 35-year-old Egwuonwu are both citizens of Nigeria, whereas Ehis comes from Senegal. A fourth defendant, Lenn Nwokeafor, was arrested by the Nigerian Economic & Financial Crimes Commission in July 2006 and is awaiting extradition to the United States.

"Although this kind of email scam can come from anywhere in the world, Western Africa is a hub for this kind of activity where a cottage industry of 'Letters from Nigeria' has flourished over the years," continued Cluley. "The advice for all internet users is not to believe everything you read in your email."

Last week, Sophos published its Security Threat Report 2008, which included details of other cybercriminals who have been sentenced in the last 6 months.

The email con-tricks, known as a 419 scam, are named after the relevant section of the Nigerian penal code where many of the scams originated and are unsolicited emails where the author typically offers a large amount of money. Once a victim has been drawn in, requests are made from the fraudster for private information which may lead to requests for money, stolen identities, and financial theft.

Other examples of 419 email scams include a message claiming to come from a US Sergeant serving in Baghdad, the grandson of the late General Pinochet, Christian workers offering a puppy being offered for adoption, and even an African astronaut stranded on the Mir spacestation.

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