New York man impersonates fitness model scammers in romance scams, steals money from COVID unemployment from Massachusetts, other states, federal government says


Fraudulent Gmail accounts, fake driver’s license and the stolen identity of a fitness model: these are the ways a New York man is accused of using to launch unemployment and love scams that cost hundreds of dollars. thousands of dollars and are targeting residents across the country from Massachusetts to Oregon, federal officials have detailed.

In court records released this week, the FBI claimed that Damilola Adepoju, the 29-year-old Brooklyn man accused of being at the center of the scheme, and an accomplice submitted fraudulent information. coronavirus pandemic unemployment claims; and applied for disaster assistance loans to the US Small Business Administration (SBA) using stolen personally identifiable information.

In some cases, according to court records, Adepoju and the co-conspirator have targeted elderly victims through romance scams, taking the victims’ personal information to launder the proceeds of their schemes.

Adepoju was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft, and first appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, a the US attorney’s office announced in a statement. He is being held pending a hearing Thursday and will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

The Brooklyn man is also accused of using Fini Shoes, the New York-based retail shoe company he founded in 2018, to launder money, channeling the money to other financial accounts. in the United States and abroad, prosecutors say.

“The investigation identified over $ 600,000 in actual or attempted losses due to fraudulent unemployment and [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] payments, ”wrote Michael Livingood, an Economic Crimes Squad special agent at the FBI field office in Boston, in a criminal affidavit.

According to the affidavit, WhatsApp messages between Adepoju and an anonymous conspirator from December 2018 to December 2020 showed that the crooks were talking about submitting fraudulent unemployment claims in the United States with people’s personal data, obtaining money. money through romance scams and receiving the proceeds from their programs through payment apps like Green Dot and PayPal.

Through his investigation, Livingood said, the FBI discovered Adepoju, a Nigerian national, and the other fraudster transferred some of his income from US-based bank accounts to Nigeria-based accounts.

They are also accused of discussing methods of concealing their identity while conducting these activities, primarily by using IP addresses that trace back to virtual private network (VPN) services and phone numbers tied to multiple SIM cards, according to the companies. court records.

The Nigerian national and the co-conspirator allegedly used the email address [email protected] and variants of the alias “Vickyann85” to submit the fraudulent claims and execute the romance scams, the FBI noted.

Around June 8 of last year, Livingood detailed, the FBI field office in Boston began receiving files from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) regarding a series of fraudulent unemployment claims.

Examining the records, authorities said, it became clear that fraudsters were taking advantage of a feature in Gmail in which Google does not recognize periods to the left of the @ domain.

This feature, the FBI claimed, allowed Adepoju and his accomplice to use many variations of the Vickyann85 account to file and track fraudulent online unemployment claims with a single email address, “for greater efficiency. , while thwarting fraud detection systems “.

Livingood noted that the Vickyann85 account would have been used to file unemployment claims in 15 states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and State from Washington. The claims represent at least $ 489,099 in losses, according to the FBI agent.

On WhatsApp, Damilola and the co-conspirator are accused of speaking out about submitting fraudulent unemployment claims in Massachusetts in particular, according to the affidavit.

On May 14, 2020, for example, the co-conspirator reportedly told Damilola that he needed a lot of “new state” Green Dot and SIM cards. Questioned by Damilola, the co-conspirator is accused of having identified the state as “MA”, detailed court records.

“It’s a rich state,” Damilola reportedly replied before asking: “How many cards do you need? “

DUA records showed that between May 11 and 24, 2020, the Vickyann85 account was used to submit 48 Unemployment Pandemic Assistance (PUA) requests, many of which were sent with telephone numbers. phone connected to SIM cards and payments directed to Green Point cards, according to the authorities.

FBI analysis of the Vickyann85 account also revealed that it was being used for romance scams in which Damilola and the co-conspirator are accused of posing as a professional fitness trainer and model, who lives in Austin, TX. , said the federal agency.

On December 3 of last year, Livingood interviewed the model and her husband, who verified that neither she nor her companies had any affiliation with the Vickyann85 account, according to the FBI.

The fake account had been used since at least 2014 to share photos from the real model’s Instagram account and to send messages to more than 300 people through Google Chats, authorities noted.

“These discussions show that after forming relationships, some people are asked to provide personal information, bank account information, and ultimately financial assistance in the form of mail money, MoneyGram payments, and virtual gift cards. “Livingood explained in the affidavit.

An 86-year-old man from South Carolina has been one of the victims of the romance scams carried out by the Vickyann85 account since about 2015, according to law enforcement. Damilola and the other fraudster are accused of posing as “Vicky”, telling the victim that she is an orphan from Europe and claiming that she now lives as a fitness trainer in New York.

On several occasions, the FBI said, on the instructions of the crooks, the victim sent them MoneyGram payments and gift cards.

In July 2020, according to court records, the victim even deposited $ 117,532.38 in fraudulent unemployment funds into her account after the Vickyann85 account told her the money had something to do with her business. fitness, according to court records.

Under the direction of the suspected fraudsters, the man withdrew the money from his account and sent it via FedEx to an address with the first name Samuel in New York City around August 17, 2020. Damilola lived one floor above the house. address at the time. , the authorities said.

Investigators noted that their review of WhatsApp messages sent by Damilola showed images of fake driver’s licenses he had ordered. They carried his picture but the names of others, including Samuel, according to the FBI.

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