You may remember from July when I was very impressed with the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) in Ireland. (See: “Operation Skein: Irish Garda targets BEC criminals“) While the biggest Black Ax arrest in recent days was the incredible work of the US Secret Service and its partners in South Africa (See: “Eight Nigerians charged with conspiracy to engage in internet scams and money laundering“) the Garda are also taking things to a new level by working every lead and following every channel and, most importantly, sharing important facts with the public, allowing us to be more careful!
In this latest Garda action, two criminals have been charged with Pandemic Unemployment Payment Fraud, known as PUP in Ireland. In the United States, 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 about how to launder this amount of stolen funds. Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan believes their activities were consistent with the behavior of The Black Axe. The two men were in communication with someone they called “the president” and they discussed money laundering, in part through bank accounts located in Germany. The story is expertly told by Liam Heylin of the Irish Examiner, which I summarize below:
This case would not have even started without the alert behavior of Detective Garda Kieran Crowley. After stopping a suspicious Mercedes, Crowley discovered fake passports, fraudulent banking documents and extra cell phone SIM cards. The messages recovered from the phone were linked to an active PUP fraud investigation being carried out by another Garda detective in Wexford. A key behavior was revealed during the investigation. The individuals whose identities had been stolen to commit unemployment fraud had all been victims of a phishing email!
The phishing email: jury duty
Many victims reported receiving a suspicious email informing them that they were being summoned to serve on the jury. The email took victims to a website where they were asked (believing they were on a government-ordered website) to enter their personal information. This personal information was then used by the scammers to apply for pandemic unemployment benefits, which were then harvested by the criminals after the payments were transferred to bank accounts controlled by the two men.
Bashiru Aderibigbe was filmed 22 times making withdrawals from 13 bank accounts.
Knowing that prosecutors had 70 witnesses ready to testify against them, and given the overwhelming weight of the digital evidence, both men pleaded guilty to the charges. Oluwagbewikeke, 36, was sentenced to four years in prison. Bashiru Aderibigbe, 45, was sentenced to 3.5 years. (Both will have their 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 before Covid and got involved in the scam out of desperation.