The United States (U.S.) authorities have charged suspected Internet fraudsters, “most of whom are Nigeria nationals”, with participating in a conspiracy to steal millions of dollars, prosecutors say.
They are accused of using business email fraud schemes and romance scams to con victims, many of them elderly.
According to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Police have so far arrested 14 suspects across the U.S., 11 in Los Angeles alone.
The authorities say it is one of the “largest cases of its kind in U.S. history.”
The FBI investigation is a major step to disrupt criminal networks, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said.
“This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon American citizens and businesses,” he added.
The FBI started investigating the case in 2016 in a single bank account but it later extended to cover multiple victims in the U.S. and around the world.
All the 80 defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California said in a press release.
Two Nigerian nationals, identified as Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, who are part of those arrested in the U.S., have been named as co-conspirators working with others in that country and in Nigeria, to obtain money from victims and then transfer it abroad.
They managed to fraudulently obtain $6m (£5m) in a conspiracy aimed at stealing $46m, the US Attorney’s Office alleges.
The remaining 66 defendants are believed to be abroad, “with most of them located in Nigeria”, the authorities say.
The suspects used illicit money exchangers to move money to Nigeria, generally avoiding transferring the funds directly through banking institutions, the indictment says.
The authorities have listed a total of 252 charges against the 80 suspects.