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A senior special assistant to the Ogun state Governor, Abidemi Rufai has been arrested in the United States for alleged identity theft and fraud.
the 42-year-old former House of Reps aspirant and real estate businessman is accused of stealing more than $350,000 in fraudulent unemployment claims from Washington state according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Abidemi Rufai, whom FBI agents recognized from social media accounts and images from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, was arrested on Friday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while they said he was trying to leave the country.
U.S. attorneys said Rufai stole the identities of more than 100 people in Washington state to funnel unemployment benefits into his own bank account from the Washington state’s Employment Security Department.
Investigators said Rufai used small variations in email addresses in a Gmail account, which made it appear like he was multiple people, to slip through fraud detection at ESD. He primarily uses the address [email protected] but would scatter periods in variations like [email protected] and [email protected] But investigators said Gmail addresses do not recognize periods, so anything sent to the different addresses went straight to Rufai’s inbox.
The criminal complaint alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits. Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania. Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems. By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
Rufai caused the fraud proceeds to be paid out to online payment accounts such as ‘Green Dot’ accounts, or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules.” Some of the proceeds were then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative. Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
“Since the first fraud reports to our office in April 2020, we have worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.” The department said in a public statement.
“I am certain that they’re all connected,” said Tommy Parker, an IT security expert who was out of work during the pandemic. For months, someone who stole his identity was also stealing his benefits.
“They made my life miserable when not only did I have to prove I didn’t get that money, but then I actually needed my insurance money, and I couldn’t get that either,” he told a Local New York paper
Parker believes Rufai and others were tipped off that security was weak or disabled at the Employment Security Department.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” Parker said. “You don’t undertake an operation of this scope without assurances that it’s going to work!”
The state of Washington confirmed it paid fraudsters $642,954 and only recovered $369,789 of that amount, which means more than $273 million are still gone. Parker believes the arrest of Rufai could be a game-changer.