Fortune: Cyberscammer steals $44 million

by January 27, 2011
Fortune magazine

In this photo provided to Fortune by the FBI, alleged cyberscammer Tobechi Onwuhara (right) is pictured at a Dallas nightclub with associate Ezenwa Onyedebelu.

Luke O’Brien, contributor at Fortune magazine, was doing a Google search when he came across a story in the Nigerian press about a criminal mastermind who is wanted for stealing money from home-equity lines of credit.

Then he saw an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” focusing on the same guy, a Nigerian native living in America. He started checking U.S. court cases, which led to his story about “one of the world’s most successful cyberscammers, a criminal genius who used his talents to filet a poorly regulated banking and credit system.”

With only an Internet connection and a cell phone, Tobechi Onwuhara, 31, allegedly stole a confirmed $44 million, according to the FBI, and his total take may have been as much as $100 million. The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for his capture to face bank-fraud charges.

Today’s Tip: Don’t stop at the court documents.

Luke O'Brien, Fortune magazine contributor

Luke O’Brien

Thousands of pages of court documents provided color for the story, including the police report detailing a car chase that led to Onwuhara hiding in a pond, Luke says. But he says the documents often offer only a limited perspective.

“I find it’s always good to talk to the people involved,” Luke says. “It provides more nuance than what the prosecutor wants you to hear.”

Luke says he sent letters to Onwuhara’s associates, asking to speak with them. Many are in prison, but he tracked others through LexisNexis, the Texas Secretary of State and Facebook.