He flaunted private jets and luxury cars on Instagram. Feds used his posts to link him to alleged cyber crimes

He flaunted private jets and luxury cars on Instagram. Feds used his posts to link him to alleged cyber crimes

(CNN)Ramon Abbas flaunted a lavish lifestyle of private jets, designer clothesand luxury cars.To his 2.5 million Instagram followers, he went by Ray Hushpuppi, a man who boarded helicopters from his Dubai waterfront apartment and walked around with shopping bags from Gucci, Versace and Fendi.On social media, where he posted a video of himself tossing wads of cash like confetti, he told his followers he was a real estate developer. But a federal affidavit alleged his extravagant lifestyle was financed through hacking schemes thatstole millions of dollars from major companies in the United States and Europe.His flamboyant posts left a digital trail of evidence that investigators used to link him to the crimes, the affidavit shows.Last month, United Arab Emirates investigators swooped into his Dubai apartment, arrested him and handed him over to FBI agents, who flew him to Chicago on July 2, federal officials said.In the coming weeks, he’ll be transferred to Los Angeles — where the affidavit was filed — to face accusations of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through cyber crime schemes.Ramon Abbas allegedly conspired to launder millions of dollars.

$41 million and 13 luxury cars seized

The Nigerian national lived at the exclusive Palazzo Versace in Dubai, and led a global network that used computer intrusions, business email compromise schemes and money laundering to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from companies, federal prosecutors allege.He worked with multiple co-conspirators and was arrested along with 11 others. Investigators seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, and phone and computer evidence, Dubai Police said in a statement. They uncovered email addresses of nearly 2 million possible victims on phones, computers and hard drives, Dubai authorities said.”This case targets a key player in a large, transnational conspiracy who was living an opulent lifestyle in another country while allegedly providing safe havens for stolen money around the world,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.Abbas’ attorney, Gal Pissetzky, declined to get into details on how his client earns his money. But what he does for a living is going to be “one of the main points of contention here,” he told CNN.Pissetzky called his client’s arrest a kidnapping, saying Dubai handed him to the United States with “no legal proceedings whatsoever.” Abbas has not been formally indicted, and the government has 30 days to indict him, his attorney said Thursday.

His birthday post helped track him down

Abbas made no secret of his opulent lifestyle and remarkable wealth. On Snapchat, he called himself the “Billionaire Gucci Master.””Started out my day having sushi down at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then decided to book a helicopter to have … facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris then ended my day having champagne in Gucci,” he posted on Instagram.Photos of him displaying multiple models of Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes and Rolls Royce cars included the hashtag #AllMine. Others show him rubbing elbows with international sports stars and other celebrities.In the affidavit, federal officials detailed how his social media accounts provided a treasure trove of information to confirm his identity. His Instagram, for example, had an email and phone number saved for account security purposes. Federal officials got that information and linked that email and phone number to financial transactions and transfers with people the FBI believed were his co-conspirators.”The email account … also contained emails with attachments relating to wire transfers in large dollar values,” the affidavit said.His Apple and Snapchat records also provided information that helped investigators confirm his identity, address and communications with other suspects. Even his Instagram birthday celebration photos provided key information.One post displayed a birthday caketopped with a Fendi logo and a miniature image of him surrounded by tiny shopping bags. Investigators used that post to verify his date of birth on a previous US visa application.Ramon Abbas told his 2.5 million Instagram followers that he’s in real estate.

Companies targeted spanned two continents

His alleged cyber crimes involved jaw-dropping amounts of money.Federal documents detailed how a paralegal at a New York law firm wired nearly $923,000 meant for a client’s real estate refinancing to a bank account controlled by Abbas and his co-conspirators. The paralegal had received fraudulent wire instructions after sending an email to what appeared to be a bank email address but was later identified as a “spoofed” email address, the affidavit said.Abbas sent a co-conspirator an image of the wire transfer confirmation for the transaction, according to the affidavit.Heand an unnamed person also conspired to launder $14.7 million from a foreign financial institution last year, according to a criminal complaint.During that alleged cyber crime, Abbas sent a co-conspirator the account information for a Romanian bank account, which he said could be used for “large amounts.” In other alleged schemes, he also provided Dubai bank accounts that can be used to deposit money from victims in the United States, the affidavit said.He’s also accused of conspiring to try to steal $124 million from an unnamed English Premier League soccer club. But it’s unclear whether the attempt was successful.

FBI recorded $1.7 billion in losses from such scams

Business email compromise schemes are sophisticated scams that involve a hacker redirecting business email account communications to try and intercept wire transfers.”BEC schemes are one of the most difficult cyber crimes we encounter as they typically involve a coordinated group of con artists scattered around the world who have experience with computer hacking and exploiting the international financial system,” Hanna said.Last year alone, the FBI recorded $1.7 billion in losses by companies and individuals victimized through business email compromise scams, according to Paul Delacourt of the FBI field office in Los Angeles.If convicted of money laundering, Abbas faces up to 20 years in prison. His bond hearing is set for Monday.His transfer to Los Angeles has been complicated by logistics linked to coronavirus, his attorney said.

How the US caught flashy Nigerian Instagrammers ‘with $40m’

The day after his 29th birthday in May, Olalekan Jacob Ponle posted a picture on his Instagram standing next to a bright yellow Lamborghini in Dubai.

“Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you’ve acquired,” he admonished, wearing designer jewellery and Gucci from head to toe.

A month later, the Nigerian, who goes by the name “mrwoodbery” on Instagram, was arrested by Dubai Police for alleged money laundering and cyber fraud.

The most famous of the dozen Africans nabbed in the dramatic operation was 37-year-old Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, “hushpuppi” or just “hush” as he was known by his 2.4 million Instagram followers.

Police in the emirate say they recovered $40m (£32m) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million victims.

Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle were both extradited to the US and charged in a Chicago court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars obtained from cybercrimes.

The two have not yet been asked to plead and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“I think there’s probably a certain arrogance when they believe they’ve been careful about maintaining anonymity in their online identities, but they live high on the hog and get careless on social media,” said Glen Donath, a former senior prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC.

It is a spectacular crash for the two Nigerian men who extensively documented their tacky, high-flying lifestyle on social media, raising questions about the sources of their wealth.

They unwittingly provided crucial information about their identities and activities for American detectives with their Instagram and Snapchat posts.

They are accused of impersonating legitimate employees of various US companies in “business email compromise” (BEC) schemes and tricking the recipients into wiring millions of dollars into their own accounts.

On Instagram, hushpuppi said he was a real estate developer and had a category of videos called “Flexing” – social media lingo for showing off. But the “houses” were actually a codeword for bank accounts “used to receive proceeds of a fraudulent scheme”, investigators allege.

“Our value system in Nigeria needs to be checked, especially the emphasis we place on wealth, no matter how you got it,” the economist Ebuka Emebinah told the BBC from New York.

“It’s a culture where people believe that results speak for you. We don’t place as much emphasis on the process and this has built up over time.”

English Premier League team targeted

In April, hushpuppi renewed his lease for another year at the exclusive Palazzo Versace apartments in Dubai under his real name and phone number.

“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Continue to shame those waiting for me to be shamed,” he captioned an Instagram picture of a Rolls-Royce just a fortnight before he was arrested.

“Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said in an affidavit.

In one case, a foreign financial institution allegedly lost $14.7m in a cyber-heist where the money ended up in hushpuppi’s bank accounts in multiple countries.

The affidavit also alleged that he was involved in a scheme to steal $124m from an unnamed English Premier League team.

The FBI obtained records from his Google, Apple iCloud, Instagram and Snapchat accounts which allegedly contained banking information, passports, communication with conspirators and records of wire transfers.

About 90% of business email compromise scams originate in West Africa, research from American email security firm Agari shows.

The complaint against Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle describe tactics that resemble what the company calls Vendor Email Compromise tactics where scammers compromise an email account and study communication between a customer and a vendor.

“The scammer would gather contextual details, as they watched the legitimate email flow,” explains Crane Hassold, Agari’s senior director of threat research.

“The bad actor would redirect emails to the bad actor’s email account, craft emails to the customer that looked like they are coming from the vendor, indicate that the ‘vendor’ had a new bank account, provide ‘updated’ bank account information and the money would be gone, at that point.”

Mr Ponle, known online as “mrwoodberry”, used Mark Kain in emails, according to the FBI.

He is accused of defrauding a Chicago-based company into sending wire transfers of $15.2m. Companies in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and California are also said to have fallen victim.

The cash trail allegedly disappeared after his accomplices, called money mules, converted the money into the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Email scams have become so prevalent globally, and so deeply linked to Nigeria, that the fraudsters have a name in the country: “Yahoo boys”.

They try to convince a recipient to wire money to the other side of the world or they go “phishing”, stealing a user’s identity and personal information for fraud.

The FBI warns against the Nigerian letter or “419” fraud; emails promising large sums of money called advance fee scams. The “Nigerian prince” trope has become shorthand for deception.

How a 419 and romance scam works

An individual may contact you via e-mail, explaining he needs help to transfer money

Will tell you that political turmoil or a natural disaster makes it difficult for him to make the transfer

Will ask you to give him your financial details so that he can transfer the money into your account

This allows him to access and steal from your account

Be careful what you post on social media and dating sites as scammers use the details to better understand you and target you

A Washington, DC-based attorney, Moe Adele, finds it frustrating as a Nigerian because it ignores the “systemic failures that have led to brilliant Nigerian youths engaging in these scams”, in the country and abroad.

“They see it as an easy way out in a country that offers them limited options and, in many cases, no options at all,” she says.

“But there are also many brilliant Nigerians are represented in world stages from education to pop culture.”

Last month, the US Treasury Department blacklisted six Nigerians among 79 individuals and organisations in its Most Wanted cybercriminals list. It accused them of stealing more than $6m from American citizens through deceptive global threats like BEC and romance fraud.

“A lot of Nigerians are doing fantastic things all over the world, but they don’t get as much media mileage as the guys doing bad things. It affects all the guys doing legitimate stuff especially in the tech space,” he said.

“A lot of foreign companies don’t ship to Nigeria, many payment platforms don’t accept payments from us because it has ruined our image.”

In its internet crime report for 2019, the FBI said it had received more than 460,000 complaints of suspected cyber fraud, with losses of more than $3.5bn reported. More than $300m was recovered, it said.

However, many online fraudsters don’t get caught and even fewer end up going to jail.

Mr Donath says the cases are challenging because they happen overseas and tend to be quite sophisticated.

“They’re time-consuming, highly document-intensive, and in many federal criminal cases, you have the difficulty of walking a jury through a chronology of relevant facts,” said the partner at law firm Clifford Chance.

If convicted, Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle could be locked up for up to 20 years.

Instagram star flaunted lavish lifestyle but was actually conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. US prosecutors say

Instagram star flaunted lavish lifestyle but was actually conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. US prosecutors sayRamon Olorunwa Abbas was arrested last month in the United Arab Emirates.

(CNN)A Nigerian man nicknamed “Ray Hushpuppi” who flaunted his Rolls Royces, fancy watches and designer clothing on Instagram faces money laundering conspiracy charges in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.Ramon Olorunwa Abbas appeared in a federal court in Chicago on Friday. He is accused of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through cybercrime schemes.According to a federal affidavit, one of the alleged victims was the client of a New York-based law firm that lost nearly a million dollars in 2019.Abbas was arrested last month by law enforcement officials in the United Arab Emirates and transferred to the US this week by the FBI.Prosecutors allege Abbas is one of the leaders of a global network that uses computer intrusions, business email compromise (BEC) schemes and money laundering capers to steal hundreds of millions of dollars.US authorities say this man is Ramon Abbas and he conspired to launder millions of dollars.US authorities say this man is Ramon Abbas and he conspired to launder millions of dollars.A BEC scheme often involves a hacker who redirects communications of a business email account to others in an attempt to lure them into making a wire transfer.

“This case targets a key player in a large, transnational conspiracy who was living an opulent lifestyle in another country while allegedly providing safe havens for stolen money around the world. As this case demonstrates, my office will continue to hold such criminals accountable, no matter where they live,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.It is unclear whether Abbas has an attorney.The Department of Justice says the Hushpuppi Instagram account, which boasts 2.4 million followers, shows Abbas inside or in front of jets, shopping luxury brands, posing in front of Rolls Royces, a Ferrari and other expensive cars.In the bio, Hushpuppi says he is a real estate developer.According to the Dubai Police Facebook page, Abbas and 11 other people were arrested during raids in which authorities seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million and phone and computer evidence containing more than 100,000 fraud files and the addresses of nearly 2 million possible victims.

Conspirators went after English soccer team, feds say

A criminal complaint filed last month alleges that Abbas and an unnamed person conspired to launder funds from a $14.7 million heist of a foreign financial institution in 2019.Abbas also is accused of conspiring to be part of an attempt to steal $124 million from an English Premier League soccer club. The complaint does not say which team was targeted or if the attempt was successful.The man known as Hushpuppi told his 2.4 million Instagram followers that he is in real estate.The man known as Hushpuppi told his 2.4 million Instagram followers that he is in real estate.Authorities said he was part of a BEC scheme that defrauded a client of a New York-based law firm out of about $922,857 in October 2019.The FBI says in the criminal complaint that Abbas and others tricked a paralegal at the law firm into wiring the money meant for a real estate refinance into an account that Abbas and his co-conspirators were using.Abbas, 37, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, the Federal Bureau of Prisons website says. He will be transferred to Los Angeles in the coming weeks, according the Justice Department.If convicted of money laundering, he would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.