Two Cayman Islands residents who thought they were buying a relatively cheap Toyota RAV4 online ended up getting scammed for $3,000.
“This case illustrates that these kinds of crimes can be solved, with a good result for victims who have lost their money.”
However, their report of the crime to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in October 2014 ended up becoming part of an international criminal investigation that led to a West African man being sentenced to state prison in Indiana, U.S., earlier this year.
On Friday, the Cayman Islands residents were returned the $3,000 taken in the scam via order of a U.S. court.
“This is a wonderful example of the benefits of international law enforcement cooperation,” RCIPS Detective Superintendent Pete Lansdown said Wednesday. “This case illustrates that these kinds of crimes can be solved, with a good result for victims who have lost their money.”
The scammer sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July in Hendricks County, Indiana, is Onitidjou Gilles Yvan Agbomenou. According to Indiana court records, Agbomenou and three associates offered anything they could think of for sale on sites like eBay, eCayTrade and Craigslist – puppies, cars, rental apartments – where the price being offered seemed “too good to be true” and might lure in unsuspecting victims.
The victims – at least 88 of them in 15 countries – were asked to send payments through MoneyGram wire transfer services. If the money was sent, no merchandise was received, and the scam victims never heard from the “seller” again.
According to U.S. federal authorities, Agbomenou used 11 aliases, 15 addresses and 16 MoneyGram cash transfer locations. Police alleged that he held two bogus Nigerian passports, although he is from Benin, and that he has used different dates of birth to effect his scams.
“MoneyGram has repeatedly placed this suspect on [an] internal blocking list and as a result the suspect subsequently changes the names used and other identifiers to able to continue to receive transactions,” Indiana court records stated.
Detailed indictments against Agbomenou in the U.S. show he was initially charged with 144 counts, mostly alleging theft in small amounts from wire transfers, generally between US$500 and US$5,000. Additional charges of forgery and corrupt business influence were also filed in Indiana.
He pleaded guilty on July 29 to one count of corrupt business influence and two counts of forgery and was sentenced to 1,825 days [five years] in Hendricks County.
RCIPS Financial Crime Unit detectives responded to a report on Oct. 20, 2014, that two Cayman residents had attempted to buy a 2005 Toyota RAV4 for CI$3,000 via eCayTrade.
The scam victims who were interested in the car received an email reply from someone calling himself “Rex,” who said he was a Cayman Islands student studying in the U.S. The RAV4, he said, was still for sale and was with a “trusted friend” on Grand Cayman.
The victims, believing the RAV4 was indeed on island, sent two wire transfers on Oct. 15, 2014, totaling nearly US$3,600.
According to a police description of the incident: “[The victim] drives to the ‘meet’ location to receive the vehicle and no one shows. During email exchanges between [the victim] and “Rex,” Rex explains that his colleague was busy and could not make it. Rex then sends another email indicating he had another buyer for the vehicle and requests [the victims] send another CI$3,000.
“At that time [the victims] realized they were being scammed and went to MoneyGram to get their money back, but the money had already been transferred and picked up.”
According to U.S. court records, MoneyGram’s own internal review of the suspected wire frauds reveal that between November 2013 and October 2014, an individual using the name Lorain Lareau had defrauded “several foreign-based MoneyGram customers.”
When this matter was reported to U.S. authorities, Homeland Security agents identified the suspect in these frauds as Agbomenou, who was in the U.S. on a student visa. Indiana authorities put the total amount taken in these scams by Agbomenou and his associates at just more than US$200,000 during the period between November 2013 and October 2014.
The RCIPS said four people were arrested in the U.S. in connection with this scheme and pleaded guilty to various acts of dishonesty between December 2015 and September 2016.