Cyberstalking

Children and young adults seem particularly susceptible to sextortion—when a victim is threatened with the release of private and sensitive information unless sexual favors, nude photos, or other demands are met.

But two unrelated cyberstalking crimes committed months apart and hundreds of miles away from each other serve as a reminder of the dangers of compromising personal photos being in the wrong hands, no matter the age of the victim.

In Houston, Heriberto Latigo repeatedly used nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to coerce her to have sex with him. In Crescent, Oklahoma, Troy Allen Martin similarly blackmailed his victim for $50,000.

Both men were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison for their crimes under federal cyberstalking statutes. The harm they caused their victims, however, may never be undone. Such crimes are occurring more frequently, especially among younger victims.

Latigo not only demanded sex, he also sent his victim horrible images and threatening messages. He sent the nude photos to the victim’s sister and male co-workers, and created a disturbing Facebook page that included deeply personal information about the victim.

“It’s a violent crime; he just used cyber tools to carry it out,” said Special Agent Christopher Petrowski of the FBI’s Houston office, who worked the Latigo case.

Latigo’s victim approached local police several times. The case was complicated and the victim’s story changed a number of times, in part because of pressure from Latigo, Petrowski said, making it difficult for local authorities to help effectively. She turned to the FBI, visiting the Houston office in person in spring 2015.

“When someone walks in with a story like that, it’s very emotional and difficult to figure out right away,” Petrowski said. “They’re hurting. This went on for more than a year.”

It took some time for the FBI and federal prosecutors to determine that Latigo had likely violated federal cyberstalking laws. The FBI sent letters to social media companies to preserve certain records in order to prevent Latigo from covering his tracks. Agents also served search warrants, seizing computer equipment from his home.

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Financial Fraud

A 77-year-old former landfill owner and investment banker from Pennsylvania who came up with a surefire way to make money—by illegally charging high interest rates on loans made to those who could least afford them—will likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Charles Hallinan, dubbed by prosecutors as the “godfather of payday lending” because his tactics to circumvent state laws and hide his long-running scheme paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, recently received a 14-year federal prison sentence for his role in collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in short-term loans with interest rates that approached 800 percent.

Prosecutors portrayed Hallinan as a ruthless loan shark who enriched himself by trapping his victims in an endless cycle of debt. His scheme was simple: make small loans with fixed fees that borrowers agreed to pay back quickly, typically when their next payday arrived—hence, the name payday loans. A borrower might take out a $300 loan to cover an emergency car repair and agree to pay it back, along with a $90 fee, within two weeks. But if the loan was not repaid within that time, new fees were applied and the principal was not reduced.

For example, if a person borrowed $300 and agreed to pay a $90 fee with a two-week due date but failed to repay the loan for eight weeks, his or her fee would then be $360, and the original $300 loan would still be due.

“Anyone who didn’t have a desperate need for money would not take out one of these loans,” explained Special Agent Annette Murphy, who investigated the case from the FBI’s Philadelphia office. “People with limited resources were getting sucked into a cycle of paying fees and not paying down the principal.”

That was how Hallinan collected an astonishing amount of money from what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of low-income victims from around the country. According to court documents, Hallinan was in the payday loan business from at least 1997 to 2013. The documents also revealed that between 2007 and 2013, Hallinan loaned $422 million and collected $490 million in fees. “During that period alone,” Murphy said, “he netted $68 million.”

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Prolific Fraudster Sentenced to 40 Years

He was, in the words of the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting him, a “financial predator.” And the federal judge he recently stood before called his long-term fraud crime spree “outrageous” and “despicable,” noting the more than 500 victims ensnared by his latest scheme.

The individual in question is Harris Dempsey “Butch” Ballow, a Texas man who had seemingly made a career out of separating people from their hard-earned money through various financial scams—starting back in the 1980s. But that career has finally come to end: The 75-year-old Ballow was sentenced in May to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding investors in a Nevada company. He was also ordered to pay more than $37 million in restitution to those investors.

And according to FBI Houston Special Agent Kendall Hopper, who worked the case, what made this particular criminal scheme even worse was that Ballow had perpetrated it while he was a fugitive from justice hiding out in Mexico. “Ballow fled the United States in late 2004, right around the time he was scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on a previous federal conviction for fraud-related money laundering,” said Hopper, “but instead of keeping a low profile, he brazenly continued his criminal ways.”

In this most recent scheme that netted him the 40-year prison term, Ballow and co-conspirators were able to buy up the majority of the publicly traded shares of a Nevada company called E-SOL International Corporation and install fictitious people as company officers. At the time, E-SOL had almost no assets and conducted no business. Ballow then rebranded E-SOL as a holding company for a couple of phony businesses—of course controlled by him and his associates—and got to work soliciting investors.

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Violent Gang Leader Orders Eyewitness Murdered

On the evening of October 23, 2014, Douglas and Deborah London of York County, South Carolina—just across the border from North Carolina—were watching television in their home when the doorbell rang. When they opened the door, she was immediately shot in the head by a man standing outside, and her husband was shot multiple times. Their adult son, who was also present, made a frantic call to 911, but the couple died next to each other on the floor of their home.

As the York County Sheriff’s Office began to investigate the double homicide, they asked the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office for help.

In the coming months, the investigative team of FBI special agents and task force officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department uncovered a web of violence that stretched across state lines and beyond local prison cells.

Turned out that the Londons had been specifically targeted—they were the owners of a mattress store in Pineville, North Carolina that had been robbed at gunpoint by three men five months earlier. Jamell Cureton, the leader of the Valentine Bloods—a hood, or set, of the national and exceedingly violent United Blood Nation (UBN) gang—had gone into the store and pulled his gun on Douglas London, who had his own gun. The two exchanged gunfire, and Cureton was hit. Also at the scene that day were Nana Adoma, the lookout who was just inside the door; and David Fudge, the getaway driver in the car outside.

The three escaped and drove Cureton to a hospital, but all three were taken into custody shortly afterward by local police and faced state charges.

Realizing that Douglas London was the only eyewitness who could identify him in the mattress store robbery, Cureton—who was in state custody at the time—discussed the “elimination” of London with other gang members through a series of phone calls, letters, and in-person visits.

Valentine Bloods member Malcolm Hartley was to be the triggerman. He was driven to the Londons’ home by fellow gang member Briana Johnson, rang the couple’s doorbell, and murdered them both in cold blood. “And then,” said FBI Special Agent Chad Pupillo, “Johnson drove him back to Charlotte, where they met with other gang members, disposed of the evidence—including burying the murder weapon—and celebrated the victims’ murders.”

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IRS scam callers are going to jail for up to 20 years

With stiff sentences for 21 conspirators last week in the United States and a round of indictments in India, the Justice Department says it has broken up what appeared to be the nation’s first large-scale, multinational telephone fraud operation.

Over four years, more than 15,000 victims in the United States lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars to the sophisticated scam, and more than 50,000 individuals had their personal information misused, the department said Friday. The money was routed through call centers in India back to the ringleaders in eight states.

The fraudulent calls came suddenly and frequently while the scam was active from 2012 to 2016, according to court documents. A person posing as an Internal Revenue Service or immigration official was on the phone, threatening arrest, deportation or other penalties if the victims did not immediately pay their debts with prepaid cards or wire transfers.

The calls targeted the most vulnerable Americans, including immigrants and older people.

An 85-year old woman in San Diego paid $12,300 to people claiming to be I.R.S. employees who threatened her with arrest for tax violations.

A Chicago man paid $5,070 after being threatened with arrest and deportation by supposed state police and immigration authorities, the indictment said.

The words “U.S. Government” showed up as the caller I.D. on a number from which a New Hampshire woman was told to pay the I.R.S. $3,980 in payment cards, the court papers said.

In the announcement on Friday, the department said 21 people living in eight states — Illinois, Arizona, Florida, California, Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas — were sentenced last week in Houston to prison for up to 20 years for their role in the scheme.

Two other conspirators in Illinois were sentenced in February to between two years to just over four years for conspiracy, and a third person in Arizona was given probation in a plea agreement, it said.

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Stealing from the Vulnerable

Those struggling to make ends meet sometimes rely on short-term, unsecured payday loans when they need quick cash.

Richard Moseley, Sr.—through his group of payday lending businesses known as the Hydra Lenders—preyed on these consumers’ financial vulnerability. His businesses scammed more than 600,000 Americans by charging them illegally high interest rates and even stealing their identities.

“A lot of these victims had to rebuild their financial lives. They had to shut down their bank accounts and open new ones. This was one of the only ways for victims to stop being defrauded,” said FBI New York Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Taylor, who oversaw the investigation. “Some of the individuals victimized were financially struggling at the time—including grandmothers, grandfathers, and former military members who served our country. In most cases, victims did not get the money back that was illegally taken from them.”

The FBI first learned about the Hydra Lenders when another government agency brought a consumer lawsuit against the group to the Bureau’s attention. Through traditional investigative techniques such as reviewing financial records, interviewing employees and victims, and collaborating with partner agencies, the FBI learned that Moseley’s enterprise routinely broke the law in issuing and collecting on loans.

From 2004 to 2014, the Hydra Lenders offered payday loans online to consumers across the country, even in states where payday lending was effectively outlawed. Some of the group’s illegal tactics included:

Charging illegally high interest rates of more than 700 percent

Using deceptive and misleading loan documentation

Taking additional, undisclosed fees from customers’ bank accounts

Withdrawing only the interest payment from the borrowers’ accounts and not applying any funds toward the principal, deepening their debt burden

Setting up payday loans for customers who had not agreed to them but had simply inquired about loan eligibility

As borrowers began to complain to state governments and consumer protection organizations, Moseley dodged regulators by insisting that his businesses were located overseas in Nevis and New Zealand and could not be regulated. In reality, the FBI’s investigation showed the enterprise operated entirely out of offices in Kansas City, Missouri, with all of its employees, bank accounts, and other aspects of the businesses located there. Moseley simply used fake letterhead and a mail forwarding service to give the appearance of an overseas location.

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Arkansas Prosecutors Seek Circuit Court Cybercrime Fee

Cybercrime sounds like something done in a dark room by a group of hackers.

But according to the law, using a fraudulent account number to buy something on Amazon is a cybercrime, and the 2nd Judicial District Prosecutor’s Office is making sure people pay for their crimes.

Assistant Prosecutor Grant DeProw told The Jonesboro Sun his office is looking at establishing a circuit court cybercrime fee that could be as much as $500.

“Any offenses that are computer related will have a fee attached to it along with the original punishment,” DeProw said.

DeProw said in 2017 Arkansas legislators passed a bill that allowed them to add a cybercrime fee to almost any felony that requires special electronic investigation.

According to AR Code 5-4-706, a circuit court can assess an additional fee of up to $500 for each applicable felony conviction for an offense that involved the use of a computer, an electronic device or the internet; and the investigation of which expended specialized law enforcement personnel or materials designed to investigate offenses involving a computer, an electronic device or the internet.

Cybercrimes range from possession of child pornography and cyber-attacks to nonpayment or non-delivery scams.

“If it requires someone who received specialized training or special equipment, then it would be eligible for the fee,” DeProw said. “This includes identity theft and the use of stolen debit cards.”

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Education Bait-and-Switch Scheme Cheated Veterans of Tuition Benefits

The GI Bill provides the country’s service members and veterans a free or reduced-cost college education to those who qualify, offering them a head start on their return to civilian life. But one group of fraudsters used the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other U.S. Department of Defense educational programs for veterans as a piggy bank to line their own pockets while cheating more than 2,500 service members out of an education they were entitled to under the law.

“This was straight up stealing. Stealing money for veterans that was supposed to help them advance their careers and make themselves more marketable to employers after coming out of the military,” said FBI Special Agent James Eagleeye, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Newark Division along with investigators from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, and Department of Education.

The scheme was a basic bait-and-switch. A company called Ed4Mil worked with two schools: one, the private liberal arts Caldwell University in New Jersey; the other, an online correspondence school hired by Ed4Mil to develop and administer courses. Ed4Mil aggressively recruited service members and veterans, offering them free computers and gift cards to sign up for what they thought were classes taught by Caldwell University. Yet when Ed4Mil enrolled the students, they would put them in and pay for unaccredited correspondence school classes—but then charge the government the university tuition rates and pocket the difference.

At the center of the scheme was Ed4Mil founder and president David Alvey. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania resident saw a business opportunity in educating veterans with government funds but learned that when the government provides tuition and other educational benefits directly to a school, certain requirements must be met that his startup could not satisfy.

To get around the law, Alvey conspired with a Caldwell University official to use the university’s name on coursework that the VA would not have approved. The official—then an associate dean at the school—falsely certified that students were taking the same courses from the same instructors who taught on campus at Caldwell.

But the veterans were instead enrolled in online courses like archery and heavy diesel mechanics that were actually taught by the correspondence school. Students sometimes received a housing allowance for the online school, in violation of the rules governing educational benefits.

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CBP and Otter Products Partner to Prevent Counterfeit Phone Cases

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today a new formal partnership arrangement with Otter Products, LLC, maker of OtterBox and LifeProof brand phone cases, as part of the Donations Acceptance Program. Under its partnership with CBP, Otter Products will donate authentication devices for CBP officers and import specialists to use to quickly and accurately detect counterfeit Otter Products merchandise entering the United States.

“Building off the success of localized enforcement efforts, CBP is now working hand-in-hand with Otter Products to target and deploy authentication devices on a nation-wide scale,” said Todd C. Owen, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations. “CBP’s formal partnership with Otter Products will help us broadly deliver these highly effective tools to the front line officers and trade specialists who need them most.”

As part of its rigorous and ongoing brand protection efforts, Otter Products intends to partner with CBP for the long term by resupplying and, if necessary, upgrading authentication devices as CBP’s detection needs evolve.

“CBP’s formal partnership with Otter Products extends well beyond the initial deployment of authentication devices,” said Brenda B. Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Trade. “Our goal is to provide continuous, organized feedback to Otter Products pertaining to the ongoing use of these devices, their effectiveness, and opportunities to improve upon them so that we may jointly outpace those who seek to profit off counterfeit goods.”

The Donations Acceptance Program broadly enables CBP to accept donations of real property, personal property (including monetary donations) and non-personal services from public and private sector entities in support of CBP operations. Accepted donations may be used for port of entry construction, alterations, operations, and maintenance activities.

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601 Defendants Charged, More Than $2 Billion in Fraud Losses Recorded

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich took part in a press conference today with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar III, and other federal officials to announce a nationwide health care fraud and opioid takedown that has resulted in charges against 601 defendants around the country, along with a total of more than $2 billion in fraud losses.

This takedown, the largest health care enforcement action taken to date by the joint Department of Justice and HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involved numerous federal and state agencies working together on the front lines in the fight against health care fraud. “But our work is not finished—we are just getting started,” said Sessions. “We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers, wherever they are.”

The charges announced today aggressively targeted schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE (a health insurance program for members and veterans of the armed forces and family members), and private insurance companies. Some of these schemes involved medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that were often never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries. In other cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries, and other co-conspirators were allegedly paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed.

According to Bowdich, “Any good criminal investigator or analyst will tell you that to find the criminals, you have to follow the money. And the people we’ve charged this week viewed our health care system as their personal ATM.”

Another focus of the operation was medical professionals allegedly involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics.

Because virtually every health care fraud scheme requires a corrupt medical professional to be involved in order for Medicare or Medicaid to pay the fraudulent claims, aggressively pursuing these corrupt professionals not only has a deterrent effect on other medical professionals who might be tempted but also ensures that their licenses can no longer be used to bilk the system. Among those charged in this operation were 165 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals.

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