Defendant Stole More Than $800,000 through Email Compromise Scheme, and Wired Illicit Proceeds to Conspirators Overseas
Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, an indictment was unsealed charging Joshua Philips, also known as “Erick Ayo Kalu,” “Anthony Abongile Baker” and “Johnson Foday Brown,” with conspiring to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiring to commit money laundering, in connection with several business email compromise and confidence fraud scams. Philips was arrested on March 7, 2018, in the Northern District of Georgia and was arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Linda T. Walker at the federal courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the charges.
“As alleged in the indictment, Philips stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his victims, then laundered the proceeds of his scam,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “The rule of law applies in cyberspace just as it does on the street, and this Office, together with our law enforcement partners, is committed to investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals like the defendants who engage in illegal conduct.” Mr. Donoghue expressed his appreciation to the FBI Field Office in Atlanta and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia for their assistance in the case.
“As we alleged, Joshua Philips, together with others, was able to swindle more than $800,000 from unsuspecting victims as a result of schemes of deception known as business email compromise and confidence fraud,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “Philips, together with others, tricked victims into sending funds to accounts they thought were part of a legitimate business deal. The defendant then transferred his ill-gotten gains to overseas accounts. I commend the work of the Cyber Task Force who worked dutifully to bring this case to justice.”
Business email compromise is a form of cyber-enabled financial fraud. In a typical business email compromise scheme, a malicious actor compromises legitimate business email accounts through computer intrusion techniques or social engineering and uses those accounts to cause the unauthorized transfer of funds. Techniques for perpetrating these schemes include spear phishing, identity theft, spoofing of emails and websites, and the use of malware.
Confidence fraud is another form of cyber-enabled financial fraud. In a typical confidence fraud, a malicious actor befriends, and gains the confidence of, another individual through online communications and uses that confidence to cause the transfer of funds for unauthorized purposes.
As alleged in court documents, individuals in the Eastern District of New York and around the United States were defrauded – through business email compromise and confidence fraud scams – into sending more than $800,000 to the defendant. For example, in or about July 2017 and August 2017, the defendant and others targeted an individual on Long Island (“John Doe 1”) who was engaged in a real estate transaction involving the purchase of property in Massapequa, New York, and his real estate attorney (“John Doe 2”), who facilitated the purchase. On or about August 23, 2017, John Doe 1 received an email from John Doe 2’s email account asking, “With regards to the closing funds, is it currently available?” After responding that the funds were available, John Doe 1 received an email on August 24, 2017 from John Doe 2’s email account instructing him to “to go to your local branch within the day and initiate a wire transfer of the funds to my attorney escrow account.” The email provided information for a bank account that was, in fact, in the control of one of the defendant’s co-conspirators. On August 28, 2017, John Doe 1 sent a wire transfer in the amount of $84,000 to the bank account. The co-conspirator received the money and transferred a portion of it to Philips, who then wired a portion of it overseas. John Doe 2 has informed law enforcement officers that he did not send the August 24 email and that the bank account details did not pertain to any account within his control.
As part of the broader cyber-enabled schemes, Philips unlawfully transferred the fraudulently obtained money overseas, including to various foreign bank accounts and to purchase used cars for an import/export company in Nigeria.
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), business email compromise and confidence fraud scams have continued to rise over the past few years and were the top two types of internet crimes (by reported loss) reported to the FBI in 2016. Such scams have victimized large and small companies, as well as individuals, in every U.S. state and in more than 100 countries around the world.
If you or your company has been victimized by a business email compromise scam or confidence fraud, it is important to act quickly. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) provides the public with a reporting mechanism to submit information concerning suspected Internet-facilitated criminal activity. Individuals and companies who have been victims of Internet crimes are encouraged to file a complaint online at www.ic3.gov. In addition, victims can take steps to mitigate further loss such as contacting banks, credit card companies, and/or credit bureaus to block accounts, freeze accounts, dispute charges, and attempt recovery of lost funds.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security & Cybercrime Section. Assistant United States Attorney Saritha Komatireddy is in charge of the prosecution.
JOSHUA PHILIPS (also known as “Erick Ayo Kalu,” “Anthony Abongile Baker” and “Johnson Foday Brown”)
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CR-121