Thursday, November 18, 2021

To the Black Axe: #GardaWillGetYou

 You may recall from July that I am very impressed with the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) in Ireland.  (See: "Operation Skein: The Irish Garda Target BEC Criminals")  While the biggest Black Axe arrest in recent days was the amazing work of the US Secret Service and their partners in South Africa (See: "Eight Nigerians Charged with Conspiring to Engage in Internet Scams and Money Laundering") the Garda are also taking things to a new level of working every lead and following every string and most importantly, sharing important facts with the public that allows us to be more wary!

In this last Garda action, two criminals were charged with Pandemic Unemployment Payment fraud, which in Ireland is called PUP.  In the US, we also have West African gangs heavily involved in unemployment fraud, as was demonstrated in Washington State in the case that Agari called "Scattered Canary." 

In Ireland, Oluwagbewikeke Lewis and Bashiru Aderibigbe stole €183,000 but were working on a scheme to steal €1,000,000 and communicating via WhatsApp on how to launder that amount of stolen funds.  Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan believes their activities were consistent with the behavior of The Black Axe. The pair were in communication with someone who they referred to as "the Chairman" where they discussed laundering funds, partly via bank accounts located in Germany.  The story is expertly conveyed by Liam Heylin of the Irish Examiner, which I summarize below:

This case would not have even begun were it not for the alert behavior of Detective Garda Kieran Crowley.  After stopping a suspicious Mercedes, Crowley discovered false passports, fraudulent bank documents, and extra SIM cards for mobile phones. The messages recovered from the phone linked to an active investigation into PUP fraud being conducted by another Detective Garda in Wexford.  A key behavior was unlocked during the investigation.  The individuals who were having their identities stolen to conduct the Unemployment fraud had all been victims of a phishing email! 

The Phishing Email: Jury Duty

Many of the victims reported that they had received a suspicious email informing them that they were being summoned for Jury Duty.  The email led the victims to a website where they were required (believing themselves to be on a government ordered website) to enter their personal details.  Those personal details were then used by the scammers to file for Pandemic Unemployment Payments, which were then harvested by the criminals after the payments went to bank accounts controlled by the pair.

Bashiru Aderibigbe was found on camera on 22 occasions making withdrawals from 13 bank accounts.

Knowing that the prosecutors had 70 witnesses lined up to testify against them, and giving the overwhelming weight of the digital evidence, the pair pled guilty to the charges. Oluwagbewikeke, aged 36, was sentenced to four years in prison. Bashiru Aderibigbe, 45, was sentenced to 3.5 years.  (Both will have the final year suspended, a common practice in Ireland if one behaves well in prison.)

Lewis has lived in Ireland since 2002 and claims he had worked as a taxi driver prior to Covid and became involved in this scam out of desperation.