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Mississippi-based charges of financial fraud lead to 16 arrests in US, Canada, South Africa

Sixteen people from several states and other countries have been arrested on charges that they took part in a fraud that used stolen information to get money and goods and then ship them to South Africa and Nigeria, according to documents unsealed in federal court Tuesday.

The charges by the U.S. Attorney's office filed in Gulfport, Mississippi, against Oluyitan Olagoke of Brooklyn, New York, say he and others were part of the Yahoo Boys, a west African gang. The charges and a related indictment against 17 other people say that the gang would buy bank account information from hackers, steal money, and then send cash or goods to Africa.

The document said people were arrested in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin, Indiana and New York.

Of the arrests, 10 occurred in South Africa, mostly of Nigerian citizens. Those defendants are supposed to be extradited to Gulfport to face charges. None of the defendants appeared to yet have attorneys.

Authorities said in a news release that additional federal charges were filed in Atlanta and Charleston, South Carolina. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of Mississippi could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The accused would try, for example, to take over bank or stock brokerage accounts, draining them of money by sending checks, wire transfers, or withdrawing money at automated tellers. Sometimes the money would be used to buy goods such as cellphones. More than $60,000 from one brokerage account alone was taken, the charges against Olagoke said. Court papers did not allege a total amount taken by the ring.

Often, unsuspecting third parties would be enlisted through work-at-home scams or fake online romances into sending the stolen money or fraudulently purchased goods to South Africa or Nigeria. In the indictment, authorities allege the proceeds were laundered "though a complex re-shipping network of both complicit and unwitting individuals recruited through various internet scams."

Officials said investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been investigating the schemes since October 2011, when they were contacted by a Mississippi woman who had been a victim. The indictment cited seven Mississippi residents who had been victims.

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