ALEXANDRIA, Va. (12/26/13)--The mastermind behind a Nigerian home-equity loan scam that netted millions from credit unions was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison last week.
As the alleged leader of a Dallas-based cybercrime group, Tobechi Onwuhara pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering and computer fraud, all in relation to a home-equity line of credit (HELOC) fraud scheme that attempted to steal more than $38 million and caused roughly $13 million in losses, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation Friday.
Onwuhara and his cohorts allegedly used many data points to wire thousands of dollars to their own accounts.
They began with fee-based databases to search for potential victims--people who had large balances in HELOC accounts--and match the information against commonly used security questions, the FBI said. Once they had credit reports in hand, they impersonated the victim and authorized the transfer of available HELOC funds into an account that allowed outgoing wire transfers.
The group used laptops, prepaid cell phones and a "spoofing" service that disguises a caller's voice, redirected phone numbers and international wire transfers to steal, then hide, the money. They weren't limited to the Dallas area--they worked from hotel rooms in New York; Lagos, Nigeria; and Miramar, Fla. (The Dallas Morning News Dec. 20).
Accounts at U.S. Senate FCU and State Department CU, both in Alexandria, Va., were targeted by the cyber criminals.
Onwuhara was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud in 2008. He became a fugitive and was featured on "America's Most Wanted." He was arrested in Australia in December 2012 and returned to the U.S., where he pleaded guilty June 21.
Eight others were convicted for their participation in the conspiracy, said the FBI.