Lagos (AFP) - A global crackdown on cybercrime has led to the arrest of 281 people, mostly in Nigeria and the United States, officials said Tuesday.
The FBI and Nigeria's anti-graft agency announced at a joint press conference that 167 people in Nigeria and 74 in the United States had been arrested, weeks after US officials released a list of Nigerians suspected of being behind online scams.
Starting in May, an FBI "sweep" operation along with Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) "focused on dismantling the most significant cyber criminal enterprises," the FBI's legal attache Ahamdi Uche told reporters.
A "sizeable number" of the Nigerian suspects had been arrested in coordination with the US law enforcement agency, including 167 detained since August for alleged computer-related fraud under "Operation Rewired," the EFCC's director of information Mohammed Abba said.
"Our efforts in coordinating the EFCC/FBI joint operations in Nigeria recorded tremendous successes" against "the infamous Yahoo Yahoo boys," Abba said, using the nickname given to Nigerian internet fraudsters.
"We have also recovered from the arrested fraudsters the sum of $169,850 (153,000 euros) as well as the sum of 92 million naira (230,000 euros)," Abba said.
Africa's most populous country is saddled with an infamous reputation for online fraud committed by so called "Yahoo Yahoo" boys.
Many people associated with this criminal activity are lauded in popular culture and even enjoy close ties with politicians.
Nigerian authorities in May arrested a popular local musician known as Naira Marley -- controversial for praising internet fraudsters in his songs.
In 2018, US agencies received 20,373 business email compromise complaints, or BECs, reporting "losses of over more than $1.2 billion," Uche said, leading to a "an uptake of focused law enforcement activity."
A spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari said that the Nigerian government will assist in any probe, but added that ordinary Nigerians "should not be tagged 'fraudulent people' for the misdeeds of a few."
In Washington, the US Justice Department said that a global coordinated crackdown resulted in 281 arrests, including 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana.
Arrests were also made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and Britain, with funds of nearly $3.7 million seized.
The FBI began working closely with several countries including Nigeria's anti-graft agency in May 2019 to tackle online fraud networks active in the United States.
FBI director Christopher Wray welcomed the global coordination in the probe.
"We're sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these (fraud) schemes: We'll keep coming after you, no matter where you are," Wray said.