Conveyancing law firms targeted in new multimillion-rand cyber scam
Johannesburg - A new multimillion-rand cyber fraud scam allegedly headed by Nigerians and targeting attorneys dealing with big-money property transactions has been exposed in a graft case in the Joburg Commercial Crime Court.
Olutunji Abdul, a Nigerian, and Siphosihle Sithole, a South African, are standing trial in a R7.8million matter in what investigators termed the new “business email compromise” (BEC) fraud.
BEC fraud apparently uses spyware or viruses to allegedly clone email addresses in order to dupe unsuspecting traders into paying invoices into “fraudulently opened” bank accounts.
Last week in the Joburg Commercial Crime Court sitting in Palmridge, Captain William Mopedi testified that DM 5, a conveyancing law firm, had its email spoofed during a transaction it was handling on behalf of Polokwane-based Amohelang Holdings, which primarily provides student accommodation.
Mopedi was testifying on behalf of the State, where prosecutor Frans Mhlongo opposed the bail application brought by Abdul and Sithole.
Amohelang had sold its property and was due to receive more than R7.8m from DM 5.
However, according to the charge sheet, DM 5 received an email in May purporting to be from Amohelang, which directed the law firm to pay the R7.8m into an allegedly fraudulently opened FNB account, which belonged to Sithole.
Mopedi said an FNB card was handed to Abdul, who allegedly went on a luxury shopping spree - purchasing Tag Heuer watches, apparel from Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana, as well as expensive electronics and gadgets.
“What shocked me was that Abdul bought R1.2m worth of liquor - mostly expensive whiskeys and champagnes,” Mopedi testified, saying the police had videos and pictures showing Abdul making the transactions. Abdul is linked to an upmarket nightclub in Sandton.
The cases, Mopedi testified, included an amount of R17.8m, and that Abdul had been caught on camera again making exorbitant purchases, including expensive liquor and gadgets with the alleged fraudulent proceeds.
“The account holders are all over the country, but the purchases are all made in the north of Joburg. It (BEC fraud) is quite prevalent and I’m sitting with nine dockets that all display the same modus operandi,” Mopedi said.
He added that Abdul was found with R710000 in cash, which the officer believed was the “proceeds of crime”, when the alleged fraudster was arrested last week at the upmarket Waterfall Estate apartment Abdul rents for more than R50000 a month.
Abdul, Mopedi said, was asked to provide his passport at a Fourways liquor store when buying alcohol of more than R500000. Abdul allegedly provided a fake Ghanaian passport, a copy of which was presented in court.
“When I asked him where the (original) Ghanaian passport was, he said he had thrown it away. Currently, we (police) don’t know who is sitting here,” Mopedi said, pointing at Abdul.
However, speaking through their lawyer Sabelo Dingiswayo, Abdul and Sithole both indicated that they would plead not guilty as they did not know each other and had never even met.
“I am absolutely convinced that I will be found not guilty,” Abdul asserted. “The State has a very weak case against me.”
Both alleged fraudsters were denied bail and will return to court in December.