Leadership (Abuja)

25 February 2013

Nigeria: Scammer On FBI Most Wanted List Captured

A notorious US born Nigerian fraudster who was placed on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 'Most Wanted list' has been captured after eluding authorities for over four years.

Mr. Tobechukwu Enyinna Onwuhara, 33, described as 'a criminal mind' by the FBI for stealing $44 million dollars from US banks using sophisticated methods, including stealing bank customers' personal information, Home Equity Lines of Credit details and account numbers, was nabbed in far away Australia.

FBI had previously explained how the conman escaped arrest in the state of Florida and went underground afterwards.

Although, FBI did not say how and when Onwuhara was captured, a mug shot of the scammer on its website listed him as 'captured.'

FBI agents say Onwuhara was born in Houston and sent to live with his wealthy Nigerian father, Prince Doris Onwuhara who the Bureau say is a 'well-known con man who made a fortune from the notorious Nigerian 419 scheme' before returning to the United States when he reached his teenage years in 1999.

Having settled in the southern state of Texas, he got a job with US lender, Capital One Financial Corporation where authorities believe he gained insider knowledge on how to work the US financial system.

His first brush with the law happened in April 2002 when he was arrested by Lewisville city police in Lewisville, Texas after police got a tipoff that he may be using stolen identification to steal money from credit card accounts. When police raided his apartment, they found stolen credit card account numbers, fake driver's licenses and materials used to forge identification.

Same year in December in the western state of Seattle, FBI said 'Onwuhara walked into a local bank and tried to max out the cash withdrawal limit on a stolen credit card' but fled the bank when he sensed trouble. He was said to have jumped into a waiting car driven by a friend of his, Abel Nnabue and they led Seattle police on a high-speed chase but were eventually caught when they tried to flee on foot.

Both men were charged, convicted and sentenced to two years in a Seattle prison but spent only eight months of their sentence for good behaviour.

After their release, they relocated to Texas and went low for a while until sometime in 2005 when the real estate market was at an all time high and Home Equity Lines Of Credit loans became available. Though it was harder to steal from Home Equity Lines of Credit, Onwuhara and his co-conspirators found a way around it.

FBI say Onwuhara painstakingly researched home owners credit reports to see if they opened home lines of credit accounts and how much they had available. At this time in the real estate market, it was very common to find homeowners with $300, 000 - $ 400, 000 in home equity.

Onwuhara impersonated such homeowners after learning their passwords and home phone numbers through extensive research.

The Nigerian acquired multiple prepaid phone lines and wireless internet cards to prevent anyone from successfully tracing their numbers. He then also signed up to a spoofing service which allowed a home owner's number appear on the bank representative's caller ID when he called a bank to request a wire transfer from the account to a home owner's regular checking account before the funds are eventually wired to accounts in Asia and then the monies would go to a Hawala in Africa.

'Hawalas' are funds transfer systems that are not regulated instead, they operate on trust. 'Brokers or Hawalanders would take a cut and then transfer the money to an African Bank, eventually returning to a US bank,' according to America's Most Wanted.

Most of the funds returning to the United States came through accounts belonging to Precious Matthews or one of the other conspirators.

Investigators say Onwuhara made most of the calls himself but when an account belonged to a female, he would get his girlfriend, Precious Matthews to make the call while other co-conspirators would be delegated other duties including finding new home owners with equity in their homes.

According to FBI records, Onwuhara and his crew had stolen more than $20 million dollars before the bureau were notified of the scam and by the time the FBI penetrated their well-organized syndicate and learned their identity, they had stolen an additional $20 million dollars.

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