By Shahid Qureshi
(London – NCA) A calculating fraudster, known as ‘Fizzy’ because of his champagne-fuelled lifestyle, has today been found guilty at the Old Bailey of conning elderly and vulnerable victims out of vast sums of money, and sentenced to serve eight years in prison after day and hrad work of (NCA) National Crime Agency officers.
Frank ‘Fizzy’ OnyeachonamIn a variation on a traditional scam that has not been seen before, Frank Onyeachonam’s victims were encouraged to set up ‘legitimate’ businesses with accompanying bank accounts, which were then used to launder the proceeds of the fraud. As a result, some of the victims were themselves investigated by law enforcement.
Lists containing the names of over 5,000 US citizens were found on Mr Onyeachonam’s computers, with the details of individuals susceptible to these types of scams, known as ‘suckers lists’. In addition, handwritten names, contact details and payment and bank details of 406 individuals were found. Of the victims that were spoken to, 12 have confirmed losses totalling approximately £900,000.
On summing up, Her Honour Judge Poulet said by giving a not guilty plea, Onyeachonam “showed no remorse” and he continued to offend following his arrest “with an arrogance that is unbelievable”.
Victims would receive a letter advising them they had won the Australian lottery and instructing to call the lottery agent, Dr Jeff Lloyds, an alias used by Onyeachonam. They were told they needed to pay fees and taxes before they could receive a large cash prize. Communication between Dr Jeff Lloyds and the victims continued for some time, with further requests for more money to be sent.
Many victims took out high value loans, believing they would be able to pay them back once they received their lottery winnings. As a result, one victim in the United States lost £60,000 and her house, whilst another in the UK ran up debts of £90,000.
Mr Onyeachonam, 38, meanwhile lived an extravagant lifestyle without evidence of any legitimate income. He had a luxury apartment overlooking the River Thames in London, is believed to have owned two houses in Nigeria and drove high-spec cars including a BMW convertible. He frequented a private members’ club in Canary Wharf and would only drink Ace of Spades champagne, at £300 to £500 a bottle.
The fraud began in 2005, with payments being sent to the UK, Nigeria and Asia
Throughout the investigation, NCA officers worked with colleagues from the Metropolitan Police Service, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the FBI in the United States, as well as the US Postal Inspection Service and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
In a statement given as evidence, one victim from the United States said:
“Prior to contact with Mr Lloyds, my husband and I were in a good financial position. We had no significant debts and our house was paid off. In 2007, we took out a mortgage on the house to give us some money. Shortly after this, I began sending money to Mr Lloyds and we subsequently lost the house as we didn’t have the money to keep up with the mortgage repayments.
“This has impacted upon my relationships with my friends and family – I am no longer speaking with my sister, or my friend who I owe $8,000 to. I don’t want to tell her what has happened so she thinks I stole the money from her for myself. I can’t sleep at night and my husband and I have been fighting, which we didn’t do before. These people took things from me that I can never bring back. We lost our dream home that we worked all our lives to buy. I don’t know how these people sleep at night”.
Steve Brown, Lead Officer from the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit said:
“Frank Onyeachonam was arrested in October 2011 on suspicion of Conspiracy to Defraud. During the three year investigation, we uncovered a global organised criminal network responsible for a large and sophisticated advance fee fraud, primarily targeting elderly and vulnerable US and UK victims. Frank Onyeachonam exploited vulnerable people, and showed no remorse for his actions. The victims have suffered devastating losses, but hopefully today’s verdicts go some way to help them move on with their lives.
“The NCA will actively pursue those who commit serious and organised crime, but our message today is be aware of these scams. You don’t have to be a victim. Many families are unaware until it is too late that relatives have fallen victim to scams like this. If you have concerns, don’t keep them to yourself – report them to Action Fraud. You can also get advice on what to do if you think you, or someone you know, may be a victim of fraud-related crime via www.thinkjessica.com”.
Marilyn Baldwin OBE, Founder of the Think Jessica charity said
“My mother Jessica was a victim of lottery and other mass marketing scams over a period of five years and I believe the torment the scammers inflicted on her as they tricked, befriended and harassed her contributed to her death (83) in 2007. I started the Think Jessica campaign within weeks of her death to help stop others from suffering the same fate.
“The Think Jessica charity has been alerted to thousands of victims of lottery and other mass marketing frauds, and behind these reports are a great many heart-breaking stories of people who have lost their life savings, homes and even committed suicide. Scammers use a psychology so powerful it can groom vulnerable people into becoming willing participants of their own exploitation and turn them against those who try to make them see the truth. Victims become trapped in a delusional world which becomes their reality and will often spend most of their days reading, sorting and sending money to keep up with the scammers demands. This can go on for years.
“Many people think victims are driven by greed but in my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth- they are driven by trust and become worried about letting the fictitious lottery officials, bankers, solicitors etc down”.
Two other individuals, Bernard Armah and Lawrencia Emenyonu, have also been found guilty of money laundering offences for their involvement in this fraud – Emenyonu sentenced to 18 months and Armah sentenced to eight months.
Photos of Frank Onyeachonam, his lavish lifestyle and how he committed his offences are available via the NCA’s Flickr account under ‘Champagne fraudster loses his fizz‘
Details of offenders:
– Age: 39
– Address: Rathbone Market, Canning Town
– DOB: 24/09/1975
– Age: 51
– Address: Bailey Close, Wood Green
– DOB: 31/10/1967
– Age: 39
– Address: Bailey Close, Wood Green
– DOB: 24/04/1975
Advance fee fraud is when fraudsters target victims to make advance or upfront payments for goods, services and/or financial gains that do not materialise. More information can be found on the Action Fraud website
‘Mules’ or ‘money mules’ are people (or a person) who transfer money acquired illegally, through a courier service or electronically, on behalf of others.
The National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) is made up of expert technical, tactical intelligence and investigation teams, and has the ability to respond in fast time to rapidly changing threats. The NCCU works with partners to identify and understand the growing threat and use of cyber as an enabler across all crime types. More information is available on HYPERLINK “http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/” \o “http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/” www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk.