Septuagenarian and Co-Conspirators Trick @StateDept and a Non-Profit in $575K Fraud Scheme

 

 

Via State/OIG:
In October 2021, Wanda Baker pled guilty to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, approximately 1 month after co-conspirator Olayinka Agboola plead guilty to the same charge. Sentencing is pending. A year earlier (October 2020), Barker, Agboola, and Linda Johnson were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme to defraud the Department. OIG and FBI special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a non-profit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.

U.S. vs. Johnson et al.

A second indictment related to BEC fraud charges Linda Dianne Johnson, 70, of Charlotte, Wanda Jackson Barker, 71, of Athens, Texas, and Olayinka Agboola, 54, of Chicago, Illinois, with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Johnson is also charged with two counts of conducting financial transactions with illegal proceeds.

The indictment was returned on September 16, 2020, and was unsealed earlier this week. According to allegations in the indictment, Johnson, Barker, and Agboola operated as money mules and conspired to launder at least $575,000 derived from a fraudulent BEC scheme. The indictment alleges that the co-conspirators tricked the United States Department of State and a non-profit agency into wiring proceeds into bank accounts controlled by Johnson. Upon receipt of the fraud proceeds, Johnson, Barker, and Agboola executed financial transactions for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.

Johnson is set to appear in court in Charlotte on October 22, 2020. Barker’s initial appearance has been set for November 9, 2020. Agboola has not been arrested yet.

The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Johnson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge of conducting financial transactions with illegal proceeds.

The charges in the indictments are allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the investigating efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, and U.S. Department of State, Office of the Inspector General, which led to the indictments.

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FTC Reports More Than $200 Million Consumer Losses to Romance Scams #valentinesday

 

Via FTC: Reports of romance scams are growing, and costing people a lot of cash. According to new FTC data, the number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. Even more, the total amount of money people reported losing in 2019 is six times higher than it was five years ago – from $33 million lost to romance scammers in 2015 to $201 million in 2019. People reported losing more money to romance scams in the past two years than to any other fraud reported to the FTC.
More information available on the FTC’s romance scam page, as well as in a video. Information about FTC complaint data can be found at ftc.gov/exploredata, and consumers can file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.
See the State Department’s International Financial Scam page here.
For sending money to a U.S. citizen outside the United States, see guidance here.
To read more about OCS Trust, click here.

Ex-FSO Michael Sestak Released From Prison on January 4, 2018

Posted: 2:33  am ET

 

In August 2015, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 44, was sentenced to 64 months in prison on federal charges in a scheme where he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States. The Federal Bureau of Prisons locator indicates that he was scheduled to be released from prison on January 4, 2018. The 2015 USDOJ announcement notes that following his prison term, Sestak will be placed on three years of supervised release.

See this piece on the Sestak case. See below our posts on this case with some unanswered questions.

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How many spring breakers drink too much and fall off hotel balconies? #SpringBreakingBadly

Posted: 3:22 am ET
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We don’t have the numbers but we suspect it’s enough to merit attention from a travel insurance company. The State Department’s Consular Affairs Twitter arm, @TravelGov caused an uproar recently for something it tweeted recently under the #springbreakingbadly hashtag.  There is now a parody account @Travel_Gov, by the way, though we’re still waiting for it to get to a “10” in funnies. In any case, we have to use the following because the original tweet had been deleted:

Somebody on Twitter complained, “I really don’t even get the tweet lol.”  Another tweeple explained, “It means don’t fall for people trying to flatter you because they may actually be trying to take advantage of you.”  Okay. That random person’s explanation would have gone down better than the Bo Derek reference. The reactions to the “not a 10” tweet were quick:

We’re wondering if the handlers were told to stand in that corner and not/not do the Twitters again until further notice. But, look, the folks at the CA bureau know more than most folks what happens when spring break turns bad. They’re the people who visits American citizens in jail, deliver the bad news to family members back home, assist victims of crimes overseas, identify bodies in morgues, and assist in the repatriation of remains, among other things.   If this uproar and attention, actually reaches the spring break traveling folks (18- to 24-year-old demographic) and save one or two and their families some spring break horror stories, then it might be worth standing in a corner even just for a bit.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ @TravelGov eventually apologized for the tweet.

 

We almost wished State/CA did a Spring Break Straight Talk event with real stories similar to those from the UK-FCO (see Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right? and British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More). Or something like the Top 10 Spring Break Horror Stories from the field. Oops! The “world’s most entertaining site” did one already with 10 Terrifying Real Life Spring Break Horror Stories last year. So best read that.

Anyway, we went looking for spring break crime statistics from the State Department. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs told us that they do not maintain statistics on arrests of, or crimes perpetrated against, U.S. citizens overseas during Spring Break. However, anecdotal information from its posts overseas and calls to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington indicates the most common crimes against U.S. citizens overseas are scams, robberies, and sexual assaults.

Here are some of the scenarios they want people (not just spring breakers) to be aware of:

  • Travelers who unwittingly agree to carry packages from newfound local friends which contain drugs; (note: the average age of the couriers at about 59, with the oldest known courier 87 years old according to a congressional hearing in February this year).
  • Travelers who drink too much and fall off hotel balconies (note: Travel Direct Insurance says that “Motorcycles are bad enough – throw in drink, drugs and no helmet, and you’re almost guaranteed a trip to the hospital. The same goes for jumping from third floor balconies. We witness enough tragedies as it is, so PLEASE think about your personal safety, your experience and your limits when you travel. It doesn’t matter whether you are 19 and it’s your first trip overseas or 59 and have seen half the world, don’t do things that are plain stupid.”

The bureau also points to its page on international scams which notes that scams evolve constantly, and the list includes  examples and resources will help alert travelers to the indicators of some common scams.

The bureau also offers advice to travelers for spring break here, all reasonable like obeying local laws, not carrying weapons (not even a pocketknife), avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and drugs, and other commonsense advice.

Probably the most important thing to remember while in a foreign country is the non-portability of American rights.  A U.S. citizen traveling overseas is subject to that foreign country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

Also worth noting that while Uncle Sam can provide assistance when Americans are arrested or detained abroad, consular officers cannot demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen arrested abroad or otherwise cause the citizen to be released. They cannot represent a U.S. citizen at trial, or give legal advice, or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.

 

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No, the FTC is not/not offering money to OPM data breach victims

Posted: 1:07  pm EDT
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The Federal Trade Commission’s Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, an attorney for FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education pens the following warning:

If you’re an OPM data breach victim, you probably know to look out for identity theft. But what about imposter scams? In the latest twist, imposters are pretending to be the FTC offering money to OPM data breach victims.

Here’s how it works: A man calls and says he’s from the FTC and has money for you because you were an OPM data breach victim. All you need to do is give him some information.

Stop. Don’t tell him anything. He’s not from the FTC.

One fake name the caller used was Dave Johnson, with the FTC in Las Vegas, Nevada. There’s not even an FTC office in Las Vegas. The FTC won’t be calling to ask for your personal information. We won’t be giving money to OPM data breach victims either.

That’s just one example of the type of scam you might see. You may get a different call or email. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing government imposter scams and other phishing scams:

• Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know to be correct. Never provide financial information by email.

• Don’t wire money. The government won’t ask you to wire money or put it on a prepaid debit card. Also, the government won’t ask you to pay money to claim a grant, prize or refund.

• Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a government agency, even when they are not. Federal agencies will not call to tell you they are giving you money.

If you’ve received a call or email that you think is fake, report it to the FTC. If it’s an email that relates to the OPM breach, you also can forward it to US-CERT at phishing-report@us-cert.gov. If you gave your personal information to an imposter, it’s time to change those compromised passwords, account numbers or security questions.

Originally posted here.

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OPM Hit By Class Action Lawsuit, and Those Phishing Scams You Feared Over #OPMHack Are Real (Corrected)

Posted: 7:16 pm  EDT
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The largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, filed a class action lawsuit today against the Office of Personnel Management, its director, Katherine Archuleta, its chief information officer, Donna Seymour and Keypoint Government Solutions, an OPM contractor.
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A couple of weeks ago, we thought that the “recipe” from the OPM email notification sent to potentially affected employees via email might be copied by online scammers.

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Today, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), part of part of DHS’ National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) issued an alert on phishing campaigns masquerading as emails from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or the identity protection firm CSID.

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DS Alerts American Cos. of Fraudsters Purporting to be US Ambassadors … Can’t Read ‘Em

Posted: 1:45 am EDT
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We understand that the Overseas Security Advisory Council functions as the liaison for cooperation and information sharing between  Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the U.S. private sector abroad.  But in cases like online scams where there are no borders, why can’t Diplomatic Security and the Consular Bureau team up to release a public alert for these scams and not just an alert for American companies overseas? This is not confined to Africa, anymore. See previous posts:

Screen Shot 2015-05-31

Here’s one “ambassador spam” received by one of our readers:

“This is Mrs Gayleatha B.Brown the Former United States Ambassador to Republic of Benin, I came down here in Cotonou Benin Republic for an ECOWAS meeting and I was searching for some files that I left in this office before I left and found out that you have not received your fund, and I asked the present ambassador Mr James Knight what happened that you have not receive your fund and he said that you refused to pay the required fee for the delivery of your ATM CARD.

I’m contacting you this morning because the director of the ATM CARD center here in Benin Republic said that they will divert your ATM CARD to the Government Treasury just because that you cannot pay for the service fee of your ATM CARD which is $95.00 only according to them.

But I told them to wait until I hear from you today so that I will know the reason why you rejected such amount of money $2.5m which will change your life just because of $95.00.

I want your urgent response as soon as you receive this email and explain to me the reason why you have abandon your ATM CARD because of $95.00. But if you don’t need it then I can change your name to another person so that this Government will not claim this money but I know that you will love to have it.

Please my dear I want to help you to receive this fund because it was a big shock to me that you have not receive your ATM CARD and withdraw your money since 2 years now and I’m very sorry for that and you will receive your fund before the end of this meeting which will take us 4 days and I will be here to monitor it until you receive your fund.

This is where you should send the fee today and don’t fail to do that as I have said.

Receiver Name==== FRANKL IBGU
Country =======Benin Republic
City ============= Cotonou
Text Question ===== Urgent
Answer ============ Today
Amount ======== $95.00
Sender Name ====
Mtcn ====
I will wait to hear from you today with the mtcn number.”

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Gayleatha Beatrice Brown was a United States foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Benin and Burkina Faso. She passed away at the JFK Medical Center, Edison, N.J. on April 19, 2013.

James A. Knight is the current U.S. Ambassador to Chad. He previously served as ambassador to Benin from 2009 to 2012.

The State Department’s travel.state.gov has a page on international financial scams but the site does not include any alert on fraudsters using the American ambassadors names in their scams.

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U.S. Embassy Malta: Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley Does Not Want Your Money (Fraud Alert)

Posted: 12:19 am EDT
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On April 9, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Beirut issuing a fraud alert on scammers impersonating Ambassador David Hale and the American Embassy in Lebanon (see  U.S. Embassy Beirut: Ambassador Hale Does Not Want Your Money (Fraud Alert). On April 22, the U.S. Embassy in Valletta, Malta issued a similar alert to the Maltese public on scammers impersonating Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley.

 

Internet scam artists have tried to impersonate U.S. Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley and the U.S. Embassy in an attempt to get Maltese people to send them money. Don’t believe them!

In several of these attempts, these criminals have contacted people via social media with an invitation to connect to “Gina Abercrombie.”  When they have, they received a message saying that, for a certain sum of money, they could be named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations or United Nations Ambassador of Peace. In similar scams, victims were then requested to send money to an office in London. Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley does not make UN appointments and would not solicit funds from people. In other attempts, the perpetrators have sent unsolicited emails for fees to process immigrant visa documents and work permits.

Correspondence purporting to be from Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley requesting any payment of funds or personal information is false. We caution against providing any personal or financial information to unsolicited emails or social media contact.

If you would like more information about how the UN does appoint its Goodwill Ambassadors, please see the UN website: http://ask.un.org/faq/14597

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U.S. Embassy Beirut: Ambassador Hale Does Not Want Your Money (Fraud Alert)

Posted: 12:15 pm EDT
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The U.S. Embassy in Beirut released a fraud alert on April 9 alerting Lebanese of scammers impersonating Ambassador David Hale and the American Embassy in Lebanon:

Internet scam artists have tried to impersonate American Ambassador David Hale and the American Embassy in an attempt to get Lebanese people to send them money.  Don’t believe them!

In several of these attempts, these criminals have contacted people via social media with an invitation to connect to “David Hale.”  When they have, they received a message saying that, for a certain sum of money, they could be named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.  Victims were then requested to send money to an office in London.  Ambassador Hale does not make UN appointments and would not solicit funds from people.  In other attempts, the perpetrators have sent unsolicited emails for fees to process immigrant visa documents and work permits.

Correspondence purporting to be from Ambassador Hale requesting any payment of funds or personal information is false.

We caution against providing any personal or financial information to unsolicited emails or social media contact.

If you would like more information about how the UN does appoint its Goodwill Ambassadors, please see the UN website: ask.un.org/faq/14597

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This appears to be a new variation to the “419 scams.” This is not the first time Internet scammers have impersonated an American ambassador. Starting around 2011, scammers have impersonated Terence. P. McCulley, who was previously the U.S. ambassador to Mali and Nigeria and currently chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in the Ivory Coast.  A variation of his name, Terence P. McCauley has also been floating around the net. And when it became widely known that this is a scam, the scammers up the ante by offering compensation to scam victims. (see Yo! The scammers are current with the news, now use the name of new US Ambassador to Abuja, Terence P. McCulley for bait).

Click here for the FBI Common Fraud Schemes page.

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From the State Dept With Love ♥︎ Your Online Sweetie Might Be An Overseas Scammer

Posted: 01:30 EST

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The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has gone Buzzfeed with 6 Signs Your Online Sweetie Might Be An Overseas Scammer (complete with pics and gifs).

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs receives daily calls about international scams involving Internet dating. Many scams are initiated through the Internet; victims range in age from teens to the elderly and come from all socio-economic backgrounds. 

Our favorite is probably #5.  Your love interest has really. Bad. Luck.

Image via travel.state.gov/buzzfeed community.

Image via travel.state.gov/buzzfeed community

Check out the whole list here.

According to travel.state.gov, in many scam scenarios, the correspondent suddenly falls into dire circumstances overseas (i.e. an arrest or a horrible car accident) about two to three months after a connection is made.  The correspondent will ask you to send money for hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses.  It is also common for scammers to tell U.S. citizens that a close family member, usually a teenager, is in desperate need of surgery and  to request monetary assistance.  You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting that money be sent to the hospital on behalf of the correspondent.  Note that any doctor, lawyer, or police officer who contacts you is likely a part of the scam. The amounts lost by U.S. citizens in these types of scams can range from relatively small amounts to more than $400,000.

This could ruin a few Internet romance on the most romantic week of the year, but click here to read more about Internet dating and romance scams from the folks who have heard it all.

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