Black Axe victim’s tragic Christmas


  • Sunday Times
  • 31 Dec 2021

● A 74-year-old Sandton woman has spent the festive season mourning her brother, whose death she blames on fraudsters.

The fraudsters stole R2.7m after intercepting an e-mail between the woman and her financial adviser regarding the proceeds of a house sale.

In 2019, the siblings sold their mother’s house for R3m, with the proceeds intended for the brother. But the money was stolen when the woman was arranging to deposit it into an investment account.

Now the bedridden woman, who asked to remain anonymous, is involved in legal action to seek compensation from financial service providers and insurers, but has received little help from the police.

The fraud is believed to be part the growing business e-mail compromise (BEC) scam. US law enforcement authorities are working with the South African Police Service to seek justice for hundreds of American victims of BEC fraudsters — mainly members of the Nigerian transnational organised crime group Black Axe — based in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

An alleged Black Axe member was arrested this month by Interpol in Douglasdale, Johannesburg, regarding an FBI fraud case. Police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said the 39-year-old Nigerian is wanted in the US for wire fraud and money laundering.

His arrest was the latest in a global crackdown on Black Axe, including the detention in October of eight men — six of them alleged leaders of Black Axe’s Cape Town Zone.

The suspects allegedly scammed 100 US victims out of $6.8m (about R107m). They are also charged with money laundering and identity theft.

Opposing bail for the suspects, prosecutor Robin Lewis told the Cape Town magistrate’s court that though the victims are American, the authorities are aware of the Cape Town Zone having targeted many more people worldwide. “Law enforcement has identified additional victims in Germany, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, the UK and Canada, all associated with Black Axe Cape Town.”

The state’s evidence suggests Black Axe and sister organisation the Neo Black Movement of Africa have 56 to 150 members in the Cape Town Zone.

“Black Axe have used internet-based schemes to defraud victims in the US and elsewhere,” Lewis said.

In its 2020 fraud report, the FBI internet crime complaint centre said it had received 791,790 complaints of alleged fraud involving the loss of $4.1bn.

“Business e-mail compromise schemes continued to be the costliest: 19,369 complaints with an adjusted loss of approximately $1.8bn,” the FBI reported. More than a quarter of the losses were sustained by victims older than 60.

Prof Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Sunday Times that almost every BEC fraud case he has researched pointed to Black Axe.

The Sandton woman opened a case at Sandton police station but has not been informed of any progress despite repeated calls. “But even if they find the guys who did it, the money is gone, so what’s the point?”

The brother died in November after an accident at home, which the woman said could have been avoided if they had been able to afford carers.

“This money could have made a difference. I just can’t help to keep thinking my brother would have been living a better life, having a proper medical aid,” she said.

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