Cyber-enabled crimes cost Georgia residents almost $144 million in 2021, with losses attributed to business email compromise schemes, investment scams, and confidence or romance scams topping the list of frauds. Nationally, these losses are in the billions. The Georgia Cyber Fraud Task Force, which investigates and prosecutes these cases, comprises local, state, and federal agencies throughout Georgia, committed to sustained community outreach, as well as training for law enforcement and prosecutors to better respond to cyber-enabled crime.
Cyber-fraudsters perpetrate these scams by utilizing a network of participants who each play an integral part in the success of the scam. One critical actor in these schemes is the “money mule”: the party responsible for opening a U.S. bank account, usually a business account, and accepting proceeds from a variety of frauds and forwarding the funds as directed, often to accounts overseas. The mission of the Georgia Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF) is to identify quality leads for investigation of suspected money mules in the Atlanta area and reduce the amount of time and resources necessary to impact those mules through judicial intervention.
Money mules act as a sort of contractor in the economy of cyber-enabled fraud, rather than the perpetrator interacting with a victim. The money flowing into money mule accounts represents proceeds from a variety of fraud types and numerous victims, and the money may flow out to second-tier recipients who remain unaware of one another. The anonymity with which these fraud schemes operate works to the advantage of the perpetrators. The sheer volume of victims who funnel money into a mule’s account – who may operate more than a dozen bank accounts – poses a daunting obstacle for law enforcement.
Untangling the web of bank accounts associated with a single mule, and the victims who deposited money into those accounts, may require more than a year of law enforcement time and resources. But focusing investigative efforts on identifying and removing money mules from fraud operations makes it harder for fraudsters to direct victim funds into U.S. bank accounts. Impacting the ability of fraudsters to move stolen funds reduces the success of these fraud schemes.
Most law enforcement activity is initially victim-centric; a victim contacts their local law enforcement agency to report that they have been defrauded. But in cyber-enabled fraud schemes the money and the person who received it are rarely in the same location, or the same state, as the victim who reports the crime. Typically, law enforcement traces the funds to an out-of-state account and then must pass the lead off to law enforcement in that jurisdiction and hope that the investigation continues. The CFTF is addressing this investigative challenge in two ways: first, by proactively dealing with money mules in our area of responsibility, and second, by taking referrals from law enforcement across the country who have identified funds from their local victims that have landed in bank accounts in our area.
During the past year, the CFTF has continued to refer leads to local and state law enforcement for investigation of money mules. These leads originate from victim complaints made to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as “IC3,” as well as law enforcement leads from around the country through the StopTheMuleGa initiative.
- Bernard Kaba, 62, of Morrow, Georgia, was sentenced on August 30, 2022, to 10 years of probation and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution to victims after pleading guilty to theft by taking in connection to his receipt of business email compromise (BEC) fraud proceeds.
- Borin Khoun, 45, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was sentenced on July 27, 2022, after pleading guilty to two indictments charging him with theft in connection with his receipt of fraud proceeds from romance and inheritance scams. Khoun was sentenced to 15 years, with the first 90 days to be served in custody followed by nine months of work release, and the remainder on probation. Khoun was also fined $1,500 and ordered to pay $234,479.58 in restitution to victims.
- Olayemi Fadipe, 41, of Snellville, Georgia, was charged by accusation for theft by receiving in connection with his participation in a romance/confidence fraud scheme.
- Stella Mae Zebic, 43, of Brookhaven, Georgia, was indicted in DeKalb County, Georgia, on January 17, 2023, on charges of theft by taking, computer crimes, and identity fraud in connection with her participation in a BEC scheme.
- Jaysen Robinson, 24, of Dunwoody, Georgia, was indicted in Fulton County, Georgia, on December 6, 2022, on charges of theft by taking and money laundering in connection with his participation in a BEC scheme that targeted a law firm.
- Augustus Edmund, 62, of Conyers, Georgia, was indicted in Hall County, Georgia, on February 15, 2023, on two counts of theft by taking for his role in a BEC scheme. The indictment alleges that he took over $200,000 from a non-profit organization in August 2021.
- Ugochinyere Anazodo, 44, of Suwannee, Georgia, was indicted in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on February 15, 2023, on charges of racketeering, theft, and money laundering in connection with his participation in several cyber-enabled fraud schemes, including romance and confidence frauds and a BEC fraud that resulted in a loss to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
- Chigbogwu Nnamani, 53, of Marietta, Georgia, was indicted in Gwinnett County on February 8, 2023, for theft by taking in connection with his participation in a BEC scheme.
Members of the public should keep in mind that indictments contain only allegations against the individual against whom the indictment is obtained. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it will be the government’s burden at trial to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the allegations contained in the indictment.
If you have been the victim of a cyber-enabled fraud scheme such as a business email compromise or a confidence fraud, report the fraud to your bank, your local law enforcement agency, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.
Business email compromise schemes rely on victims trusting their email communications are secure. If you are sending or receiving large sums of money, confirm the transaction instructions in person or in a phone call that you initiate. If you are engaged in online relationships, beware of individuals who make excuses not to meet in person and any requests for money.
You can find more information about online scams and how to protect yourself by visiting www.ic3.gov or the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division www.consumer.georgia.gov.
To help small businesses, non-profits, and places of worship safeguard their data and devices, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division created Cybersecurity in Georgia. This comprehensive guide includes critical tips and information on the different types of cyber threats, protecting your data and network, training employees about cybersecurity, planning for and responding to a security breach, cyber insurance, and more. Download your free copy here.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at [email protected] or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.