When Disaster Strikes

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Unemployment insurance form on a table.

In 2020, the State of Washington was contacted by officials at the Seattle Fire Department, Microsoft Corp., Zulily.com, the City of Bellingham, and the Seattle Yacht Club saying that some of their state of Washington employees appears to be receiving COVID-19 unemployment benefits despite them continuing to work. Since all the claims went to one email address, sandytangy58@gmail.com, it is not a stretch to think that some identities have been stolen!

Upon further investigation, “sandytangy58” was used by one fraudster, Abidemi Rufai. In his free time as special assistant advisor on child poverty programs to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State, Rufai collected more than twenty thousand stolen American identities. Then he laid in wait for a disaster to strike the United States.

Rufai was found guilty of using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data to file dozens of thousands of fake claims for pandemic unemployment benefits in Washington and disaster relief aid for Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, totaling over $2 million. He also filed for and received $10,000 in small business Economic Injury Disaster loans tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In between various natural disasters and pandemics, Rufai also used stolen identities to submit hundreds of phony tax refund claims for which he received over $90,000 and ran a “mystery shopper” scam, in which he sent counterfeit checks to accomplices who were instructed to deposit the funds and wire most of the money to Rufai only to discover the checks were worthless.

On September 26, 2022, Rufai was sentenced to 5 years in prison and full restitution.

Great job by the Washington Employment Security Department with acting quickly on the lead by the Seattle Fire Department. Hopefully, software and changes are made so that future fraudsters can’t manipulate a Google email for illegal gains.

Today’s Fraud of the Day is based on an article “The motivation was greed, unrestrained greed’: Ex-Nigerian official sentenced to 5 years for stealing from U.S. disaster relief funds” published by Market Watch on September 27, 2022

A former government official in Nigeria has been sentenced to five years in a U.S. prison for using stolen identities to apply for millions of dollars in American disaster relief aid despite living thousands of miles away.

Abidemi Rufai had been a special assistant to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State, advising on child poverty programs, when he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in May 2021 on charges of wire fraud and identity theft, federal prosecutors said.

Rufai, 45, of Lekki, Nigeria, was accused of collecting the stolen identities of thousands of U.S. citizens and using many of them to apply for over $2.4 million in disaster relief aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.