A former Nigerian government official, Abidemi Rufai, has admitted stealing the identities of 20,000 Americans to claim $2million in disaster relief including $350,000 in COVID benefits.
Rufai, 45, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Tacoma to stealing Social Security numbers and other personal data from residents of Washington State to pocket around $600,000.
At the time, Rufai was working as a special assistant to a governor in Nigeria before his May 2021 arrest at New York’s Kennedy airport when he was due to fly home to Nigeria.
The main target was the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) who paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic claims to accounts controlled by Rufai.
The fraudster also pleaded guilty to stealing benefits from at least 17 other states in previous schemes and took $250,000 from federal programmes.
Since 2017, he had obtained identifying information for more than 20,000 Americans, submitted $2million in claims for disaster relief and other federal benefits, and received more than $600,000, prosecutors said.
He tried to receive more than $1.7million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false claims, from which he received $90,877.
The convict employed a feature of Gmail, Google’s free email service that let him use a single email account, altered by the addition of periods to the address, to file multiple unemployment claims.
Rufai exploited this by using the altered email addresses to create multiple accounts in the system Washington uses to authenticate online users.
He then filed for the benefits using real identities of Washington residents, with any emails sent by the ESD on behalf of the claimants all routed into his inbox.
The fraudster exploited a loophole through Google’s Gmail service which allowed him to register multiple email addresses linked to one account.