US: Nigerian fraudsters linked to COVID-19-related unemployment benefits fraud

THE NEWSGHOST, NIGERIA – A string of COVID-19-related fraud targeting multiple states in the US has been traced back to a group of fraudsters in Nigeria.

A recent report notes that this was revealed in a US Secret Service internal memo sent to the Secret Service’s field offices across the US on Thursday, May 14.

The group dubbed the ‘Scattered Canary’ are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs, the memo explained.

Although the fraudsters had primarily targeted the state of Washington, evidence of a similar fraudulent scheme was seen in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.

The group carried out the fraudulent scheme posing, for instance, as the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Programme and sending individuals residing out-of-state Automated Clearing House (ACH) deposits in different names without connection to the account holders.

Then they filed for unemployment claims in different states using Social Security Number (SSN) and other personal identification information (PII) of their victims, which included first responders, government and school employees.

According to the memo, ‘It is assumed the fraud ring behind this possess a substantial PII database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far.’

Even though every state in the US is vulnerable to this scheme, the memo maintains that Washington seemed to be the hardest hit so far.

Crane Hassold, a senior director of threat research at California-based cybersecurity firm Agari, explained that the group grew from just one man ‘working Craiglist scams’ into a business email compromise gang with dozens of members, with each member given specific tasks.

Hassold also noted that, ‘Since its inception, at least 35 different actors have joined Scattered Canary in its fraudulent schemes. The group has turned to a scalable model through which they can run multiple types of scams concurrently. And with multiple tools designed to help them expand their operations and stay hidden from law enforcement, it is no wonder that they are seeing massive success.’

According to the report, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.

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