Viral social media posts claim a suspected Nigerian fraudster committed fraud of over US$400,000 while in a United States prison.
The story has also appeared in several newspapers and blogs.
Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, is known for showing off his lavish lifestyle on Instagram. He was arrested in June 2020 in Dubai. US authorities claim his crimes have cost victims almost $24 million.
Abbas is facing charges of internet scamming and money laundering at the US District Court for the Central District of California. He has pleaded guilty to the charges and is due for sentencing in July 2022.
The claim is based on what appears to be an affidavit by Andrew John Innocenti, a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent, presented to the court on 16 March 2022.
Did Hushpuppi commit fraud of $400,000 from inside a US prison? We checked.
Fraud said to use economic impact payment card
The affidavit says Abbas worked with a partner to fraudulently collect US government Covid relief payments using the economic impact payment (EIP) card.
This prepaid debit card is given to eligible US citizens. It contained the first round of payments under the US government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. It was also used to pay funds under the Covid-related Tax Relief Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The affidavit says Abbas has unrestricted phone calls and access to the internet in prison. It claims that while in prison, he bought 58 EIP cards and laundered the proceeds.
‘It is fake’ – computer forensic expert
But the affidavit has been found to be fake by Gary Warner, the director of research in computer forensics at the US University of Alabama in Birmingham.
“People are asking me if it is true that #Hushpuppi laundered $400,000 in #Stimulus cards from in prison. The document they show is an edit of a June 2020 Affidavit,” Warner tweeted on 17 March 2022.
“The new version is fake, intended to get people to visit a scammer EIP website.”
A link in the affidavit leads to a website offering a range of EIP cards, with balances from $1,400 to $8,400. Visitors have to register to enter the website.
It is similar to a phishing scam Africa Check debunked in November 2020.
Prof Boniface Alese, a cybersecurity expert and lecturer at the Federal University of Technology Akure in southwestern Nigeria, says fraudsters use these websites to collect people’s data. The data is then sold, exposing victims to potential cyberattacks.
US department of justice dismisses claim
The director of media relations at the US Attorney's Office of the Central District of California, Mrozek Thom, is also reported to have denied the claim.
Thom told the BBC that the prosecutor in the case had filed no such document.
Some newspapers that published the false claim have since corrected their reports.
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