Ohio loses $330 million to fraud, Nigerian gangs suspected

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Where did all the money go?

Where did all the money go?​


By LYNN THOMPSON lthompson@bryantimes.com
Feb 6, 2021


The next email you get from a Nigerian prince ought to be offering a refund, since your name may have been used by the prince to illegally get Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits.

Ohioans lost an estimated $332 million in fraudulent PUA claims based on identity theft in December alone, with an additional 74,000 complaints reported in January. At least 20 of those complaints came from Williams County this week as residents received 1099-G tax forms for PUA benefits for which they never filed or received and reported it to local law enforcement.

Ohio was not the first state to be victimized...

....While the ESD reduced processing delays and verification standards to get money to those who needed it, scam artists exploited the opening. Specifically, a Nigerian fraud ring identified as “Scattered Canary” by Crane Hassold, the senior director of threat research for the California-based cybersecurity firm Agari.

In Hassold’s case study on the Washington fiasco, he said that Scattered Canary was run by a core group of about 35 people with an unknown number of entry-level employees dedicated to simple data entry. They used PII from past data breaches and coupled that with Gmail variants to create thousands of claims. It’s like cloning — John Doe’s PII gets used for johndoe@gmail12.3, johndoe@gmail1.23, johndoe@gmail123.0, etc. Gmail doesn’t recognize periods as characters so as long as the numbers and letters match, all those new accounts go the same email account. Hassold said 259 variations were identified for a single email account.

Once the claims were approved, funds were likely deposited in Green Dot prepaid debit cards rather than traditional bank accounts, Hassold said. From there, funds were laundered through bitcoin or international transfers. With $790 per week per claim, plus the $600 COVID stimulus over the 26-week pay period, each account received a maximum $20,540 while Washington ESD lost an estimated total $5.4 billion.

On May 14, 2020, the U.S. Secret Service released a bulletin stating that Scattered Canary was active in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Hawaii and Ohio....
 
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