US jury convicts Nigerian on wire fraud charges

A 31-year-old Nigerian man could face up to 20 years in prison after being convicted Tuesday of charges related to running advance free fraud scams for five years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Okpako Mike Diamreyan lived in Nigeria, Ghana and the U.S. between August 2004 and August 2009, running scams that involved sending e-mails and making phones calls in order to perpetrate advance free fraud (AFF).

The scams try to entice victims into sending money with the false promise they'll receive a greater sum of money in the future.

Diamreyan posed as a government or bank official, sending fake documents to victims in order to persuade them to send money via money transfer services such as Western Union. Prosecutors alleged "numerous" victims sent money to Diamreyan, both directly and indirectly.

Diamreyan is scheduled for sentencing in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on May 7. He could also face a fine of $250,000 for each of three wire fraud counts, the DOJ said.

Advance fee fraud scams have existed for many years, but fraudsters have been able to canvas an ever-increasing number of people using spam e-mail. The type of scam is also known as 419 fraud, named after part of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud.

Advance fee frauds are believed to be a multi-billion dollar industry, but prosecutions are rare. Technology companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo have filed some lawsuits due to the use of their brands in a version of the scam that falsely informs potential victims they've won a lottery run by the companies.

The top three countries for AFF losses in 2009 were the U.S. at $2.1 billion, U.K. at $1.2 billion and China at $936 million, according to figures released last month by Ultrascan, a Dutch private investigations company. The figures are estimates based only on the cases Ultrascan has seen, and the actual fraud figures are likely much higher, according to Ultrascan.

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