The FBI’s operation targeted those associated with Black Axe, an organized crime syndicate which originated in Nigeria and has since spread throughout Africa and the world. 23 suspects were charged in Texas’ Eastern District, along with 11 in the Northern District.
The group had been active since January 2017, according to US officials, and has engaged in a broad variety of fraudulent schemes, such as investor scams, BEC (business email compromise) and unemployment insurance fraud.
Romance scams were also implemented by the group, which exploited victims on popular dating platforms such as Match.com, Plenty of Fish, JSwipe and ChristianMingle.
According to court documents obtained by The Record, officials reported that the group managed to steal and launder in excess of $17 million, the funds of which were acquired from at least 100 victims.
The suspects are likely to be members of Black Axe, said sources familiar with the group’s activities. The criminal syndicate is linked to the Neo Black Movement, a Nigerian-based college fraternity that gradually transformed into a secret society, cult and confraternity.
As with other Nigerian confraternities, the NBM’s original mission was to combat racism within the once British colony. Over time, however, the group’s tactics took a turn into criminal activities and violence, and began to spread internationally.
According to a 2020 Interpol Report, Black Axe is believed to currently be involved in organized crime involving human trafficking, prostitution, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, grand theft, and also cybercrime primarily consisting of phishing/email fraud.
Although members of Black Axe have been arrested in the past for cybercrime-related offenses, the recent arrests in Texas represent the most significant crackdown against the group’s fraudulent online activities.
Moreover, these arrests represent the second law enforcement crackdown against Black Axe’s cybercrime offenses during 2021, following the April arrests of 30 group members by Italian police.
Just days before the US-based arrests, both Italian and Spanish authorities arrested over 100 members of four Italian mafia organizations on the charge of cybercrime, with offenses including money laundering, BEC scams, SIM swapping and phishing.
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