Hushpuppi – the Instagram influencer and international fraudster
Ramon Abbas – known to his 2.5 million Instagram followers as Hushpuppi – is taken into account by the FBI to be one among the world’s most high-profile fraudsters and faces a jail sentence of up to twenty years within the US after pleading guilty to concealment .
The BBC has used newly available court documents to uncover the person behind cyber heists that have cost his victims millions, from his humble beginnings as a “Yahoo Boy” hustler in Nigeria to a so-called “Billionaire Gucci Master” living a lifetime of luxury in Dubai before his arrest last year.
The 37-year-old began his career in Oworonshoki, a poor coastal area within the north-east of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
Local driver Seye told the BBC that he remembered Abbas as a young boy working alongside his mother within the Olojojo market. His father was a taxi driver.
As he grew older, Seye says, Abbas liked to splash his cash: “He was generous. He wont to buy beer for everybody around.”
But everyone knew the source of his mysterious wealth – cybercrime; he was a “Yahoo”, Seye says.
“Yahoo Boys” are romance scammers who took their name from the primary free email available in Nigeria.
“They came up with the thought of stealing identities. then thereupon fraud , they went into dating [scams],” explains Dr Adedeji Oyenuga, a cybercrime expert at Lagos State University.
Once a relationship is established via a false identity, romance scammers wheedle money from their online lovers.
Like many Yahoo Boys, Abbas broadened his criminal horizons. Many visited Malaysia – and Abbas followed them, ending up in Kuala Lumpur around 2014, then Dubai in 2017.
Abigail Mamo, chief executive of the Maltese chamber of small and medium enterprises, says the heist plunged the vacation island into “chaos”.
Shopping trolleys crammed with goods were abandoned at checkouts as payment systems pack up .
“We received calls from our members telling us they were sending money using Bank of Valletta’s platform to their foreign suppliers,” says Ms Mamo.
“Their foreign suppliers didn’t receive the cash … We’re talking about thousands of euros.”
The bank said it managed to recover 10m euros.
“Damn,” Abbas said during a text to a fellow scammer at the time in messages obtained by the FBI.
The reply shows subsequent heist was being planned: “Next one is in few weeks; will allow you to know when it’s ready. regrettable they caught on, or it might are a pleasant disburse .”
In May 2019, Abbas was tasked with fixing a checking account in Mexico.
It was to receive £100m from a Premier League Football Club, and £200m from a UK firm. Neither are named within the court documents.
The scams were to be administered via Business Email Compromise (BEC).
Terrifyingly simple, BEC works by intercepting payments via fake emails that appear to return from an address that’s almost precisely the same because the supplier’s. Only one letter or number are going to be different.
In that email the scammers – posing as a supplier awaiting payment – typically say they’ve switched banks, therefore the payment will got to be wired to a special account; the small print that they’re going to provide.
The accounts clerk is fooled into thinking it’s a legitimate request from the supplier – and, with one click of a mouse, vast sums of cash are lost.
But the Premiership scam fell apart when the united kingdom banks refused to pay into the Mexican account. “Brother i can not send from UK to Mexico,” Abbas’s sidekick messaged him. “They keep checking out .”
None of the Premiership clubs would confirm whether or not they were the intended victim.