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News: Hawks and United States Homeland Security expose global fraud scam

The long arm of the law proved to be very long and effective when a joint operation between members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, and the United States Homeland Security Investigations Directorate (HSID) recently resulted in the exposure of a global fraud scam and the arrest of ten suspects in South Africa.

The joint operation between the Hawks and the HSID took place after a federal indictment against a number of people on charges ranging from mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, theft of government money, money laundering, wire fraud, bank fraud as well as unauthorised device access was filed in a United States court in May this year. After close cooperation with South African law enforcement agencies, the US District Court for Mississippi was granted arrest warrants for a number of suspects located in South Africa. Search warrants for associated properties in Pretoria/Tshwane were also granted. 

The fraudsters’ modus operandi entailed identity theft in the United States of America and the subsequent use of the stolen information to fraudulently obtain capital and goods. The illegally obtained merchandise was then shipped to South Africa and Nigeria.

According to the official media statements issued, investigators overseas have already identified hundreds of victims of this scam in the United States and it is estimated that the scam has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of US dollars. A Hawks spokesperson explained that syndicate members had used fraudulent credit card information and the personal details obtained from stolen identities to purchase shipping labels from DHL, United Parcel, the Federal Express and the US Postal Service to send the illegally obtained wares overseas to be sold. Once the merchandise reached South Africa, the fraudsters advertised it for sale on the Internet, enriching themselves at the cost of other people’s savings, credit rating and reputation. 

The nine suspects arrested in Tshwane/Pretoria have already appeared in court and are, according to their legal representative, planning to apply for bail. The accused are: Sesan Farin (39) from Gezina; Anouluwapo Segun Adegbemigun (38) from Sunnyside; Rhulane Fiona Hlungwane (23) from Waverley; Olesegin Segi Shanekan (29) from Sunnyside; Rasaq Aderoju Raheem (28) from Rietfontein; Femi Alexander Mewase (43) from Sunnyside; Olufeni Obaro Omoraka (24) from Willow Glen; Olasupo Odebunmi (34) from Annlin and Olandimenji Agelotan (29) from Waverley. The eight male suspects are from Nigeria and the female suspect, Rhulane Fiona Hlungwane, is from South Africa. The personal information about the 10th suspect arrested in Mbombela/Nelspruit has not yet been released. Local investigators revealed that it was unlikely that the suspects’ bail applications would be favourably considered before their identities and citizenship have been sufficiently verified.

The exposure of this global scam has also led to a further 14 arrests being made in locales as far afield as California, Canada, Georgia, Wisconsin, Indiana, South Carolina and New York State.

The successful coordination of this complicated, long term investigation between the law enforcement agencies of South Africa and the United States clearly sends a warning to scammers and fraudsters that South Africa is not a backwater country to be used as a safe platform to conduct their criminal activities from. Upon executing the search warrants issued for the premises in Tshwane/Pretoria, local investigators seized cell phones, laptops, computers, e-tablets and documents which were handed over to the American HSID for analysis. Further arrests are expected as the investigation continues. As the DPCI Head, Lt Gen Anwa Dramat said: “The exposure of this global scam is the result of the collaboration between the SAPS and the HSID. If criminals are able to interact with one another across borders, we can do better.”

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