Fresh evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has revealed how Ramon Abbas, popularly called Hushpuppi, a Nigerian Instagram sensation, was involved in laundering unemployment benefits meant for citizens of the United States.
The scheme is one of the insurance programmes provided for workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own and meet certain other eligibility requirements. The joint state-federal programme provides cash benefits to these workers.
Hushpuppi, who was arrested in UAE over money laundering and cyber fraud allegations, is currently facing charges in the U.S.
He is accused of facilitating computer intrusion, Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud and money laundering and has been arraigned in an American court in California. His trial begins on October 13.
He pleaded not guilty to the four counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering conspiracies, international money laundering and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.
Nevertheless, in the affidavit filed on September 14, with the United States District Court, Central District of California, Andrew John Innocenti, an FBI agent trained on foiling cybercrime indicted Mr Abbas in the outcome of his investigation.
Mr Innocenti said he discovered that Hushpuppi, using his email address, registered on a website whizzlog.com (“Whizzlog”) which is a marketplace for buying US Bank Logs and money laundering.
He said although, based on his training, sophisticated cybercriminals do not use their personal email address in registering on such websites but Hushpuppi did.
“ABBAS email address contained registration contamination from Whizz Log. It also contained numerous confirmations and receipts of bank logs he purchased. One of such messages read “Your order was successful. You have purchased (the “Financial Institution”) bank log with a balance of $9,839.44. Purchase Price: $955. The bank log details are in your account. Login to your Whizz Log account to view.”
“From the example above. I observed ABBAS buys a bank log with a balance of over S9,000 for as low as $900. This prompted me to visit the website whizzlog.com for more findings.”
After creating an account, the FBI agent discovered that Whizz Log sells only accounts which have been used to claim unemployment benefits. “Hackers who have claimed unemployment benefits of victims in the United States sell them off in bulk on Whizz Log.”
The prices of bank logs on Whizz Log range from $600 to S1,000 and balance in accounts sold ranges from $4,000 to as high as $12,000, he noted.
For easier payment, the bank logs are available for purchase instantly and payment is made using Bitcoin.
“Cyber criminals who purchase the bank logs can launder the money off through various means. The favorite means on Whizz Log is to buy Bitcoins with the balance in the bank log Whizz Log specifies if a bank log is “BTC Compatible” or not.
“Based on my training and experience, a bank account is “BTC Compatible” if you can buy Bitcoins from within the bank log. Some banks allow clients to directly purchase Bitcoins from their online bank account. Such banks are “BTC Compatible”. A buyer of a “BTC Compatible” bank log would login to the account, navigate to services provided by the bank and select to buy Bitcoins. He can use the whole balance in the account to buy Bitcoins. The Bitcoins will be sent to the criminal within minutes.”
While going through one of the bank accounts bought on the website, Mr Innocenti found that the account was recently opened.
“All the credits into the account were from the Department of Unemployment Assistance totaling $7,302.15,” he stated.
Since Mr Abbas had pleaded that he should be prosecuted with complaints rather than a grand jury indictment, this new evidence will be added to the previous ones.
If found guilty and convicted, the popular Instagram sensation could spend the next 20 years in prison.