Federal agents have arrested 24 individuals on suspicion of acting as money launderers for an online fraud operation that is said to have made over $30m.

Businesses and individuals are said to have lost the funds through various business email compromise (BEC), romance fraud and retirement account scams, among others.

The 24 defendants are accused of laundering funds from the schemes through bank accounts in the US and across the globe.

They’re alleged to have created fake companies and used fake and victim identities to open bank accounts, before transferring funds, quickly withdrawing them and then circulating the money among the other defendants.

Of the 24, Darius Sowah Okang, 29, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, is also charged with one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, after creating a bank account in a retirement account scam victim’s name and depositing $288,000 of their money in it.

Afeez Olaide Adeniran, 31, of Atlanta, Georgia, and Blessing Ojo, 34 of Nigeria, are also charged with one count of wire fraud. Adeniran is accused of defrauding a homebuyer of $40,000 intended for a real estate transaction, while Ojo is said to have masterminded a false invoicing scam that duped a Californian media company into wiring $646,840 to a bank account controlled by one of the defendants.

A further 17 individuals are awaiting charges of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and conspiracies to commit these offenses from a federal court in Atlanta.

The charges highlight how rampant online fraud is today. BEC scammers made almost $1.8bn in 2019, over half the $3.5bn total cybercrime losses reported to the FBI, according to a recent report. Confidence and romance scams were in second place, netting scammers $475m.

“Fraud schemes, like the ones perpetrated and facilitated by these defendants, inflict considerable losses on citizens, companies and the financial system,” said US attorney Byung Pak. 

“Some of these schemes target the elderly and often deplete the victims’ entire life savings. These arrests affirm the Department of Justice’s commitment to prosecuting those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens.”

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