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Orlando couple accused of $550,000 phishing scam tied to Nigeria

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently announced the arrest of an apparently prepossessing married couple, ages 46 and 44, respectively. Surprisingly, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office ‘Economic Crimes Unit began quietly investigating the couple last January, after an alert from JPMorgan Chase & Co. about potentially suspicious account activity in the county.

As the inquiry progressed, according to a spokesperson, investigators began to suspect that the JPMorgan Chase notification came a bit late. In fact, they became convinced that the pair was involved in a multi-year, multi-jurisdictional identity theft operation with ties to Nigeria. They called in the FDLE.

Despite apparent confidence in their case, investigators are keeping the details under seal. The limited available information indicates the couple is suspected of running a “phishing scheme” among customers of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo banks. Operators of phishing scheme generally send seemingly legitimate emails to bank customers designed to finagle recipients into revealing personal information that can be used to take over their financial identities.

"It's relatively common," commented a supervising special agent with the FDLE. "It's based out of Nigeria. They were tied in with the Nigerians."

By that inscrutable remark, the agent may have been referring the so-called “Nigerian letter” scam common in the 1980s and the early days of the Internet. Victims would receive emails from someone claiming to be a rich Nigerian prince or former official trying to quietly move funds out of the country. In exchange for the recipients’ help, and ultimately their bank account information, the emailers promised a large reward.

As dissimilar as the scheme alleged in this case may be from the “Nigerian letter” scam, it’s true that the majority of online frauds are perpetrated abroad, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

The couple is charged with grand theft, criminal use of personal information, and operating an organized scheme to defraud. Bond was set at $180,000 for the husband and $105,000 for the wife.

Online identity theft is a hot-button issue for the media and a source of dread for Internet users. Unfortunately, when a particular crime becomes so notorious, those accused of it are at much greater risk of having their constitutional rights violated during the investigation and prosecution. Whether “tied in with the Nigerians” or not, being accused of identity theft or any Internet crime calls for immediate counsel from an experienced defense lawyer.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Orlando couple stole $550,000 in massive ID-theft 'phishing scam,' FDLE says,” Henry Pierson Curtis, Jan. 16, 2014

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