Eagle police arrested a 38-year-old Nigerian man, Babajide Ayowole Ogunnubi, on felony racketeering and theft charges for his part in a classified ad scam involving a local newspaper and a Walmart in Beaumont, Texas.
Ogunnubi allegedly convinced Linda Lazard Franks, 56, of Beaumont, to sign for money orders and other financial transactions and then give the money to him.
Franks told Eagle police that Ogunnubi told her that he had lots of friends in the Houston and Beaumont areas who would send money to him.
Eagle police say Ogunnubi stole at least $3,124.56 between Oct. 22 and Nov 28, 2017. He is being held on $100,000 bond.
For her part in all this, Franks faces five felonies. She is accused of stealing more than $28,000 in nine days through 28 fraudulent transactions, some of them from Eagle County victims, Eagle police say.
Franks was arrested Jan. 6 and remains in the Eagle County jail on $30,000 bond.
Below is Police statement on how it all happened:
Late morning Nov. 28, 2017, Eagle Police Officer Bryce Hinton was called to Eagle’s Community Bank of Colorado to meet with two women who said they had been scammed.
One of the women said she answered a classified ad in the Vail Daily asking for a part-time personal assistant to do some shopping and other errands. “Send resume to [email protected],” the ad said.
Meanwhile, foreign hackers broke into the Google account of a Chino, California, man, Todd Michael McNitt, and used McNitt’s stolen identity to buy the classified ad to run their scams, police said.
Hinton tracked McNitt to Chino Hills, California, where McNitt told them his Google account had been hacked and the hackers got his personal information from his emails.
The real McNitt produced a Google alert that Google sent him when his account was hacked. Hinton said McNitt changed his passwords within 15 minutes of speaking with Google.
The Eagle woman, a local college student, answered the classified ad by email on Oct. 26, 2017. Three days later, she received an email response saying she got the job.
The woman heard from not-McNitt again on Nov. 2, 2017, after she had asked him if the job was a scam. The alleged scammers assured her it was not a scam and produced McNitt’s California driver’s license and some LinkedIn references.
Four days later, the alleged scammers asked the woman to buy a Target gift card using McNitt’s reportedly forged identity and to make sure they could access it.
Four days after that, the woman followed their instructions and opened a checking account in hers and McNitt’s name, again giving the scammers access to it.
The alleged scammers told the woman they had transferred $4,500 to her personal account.
Over the next few days, they told the woman to send thousands of dollars from her account to a foster home in Austin, Texas.
Three days later, the woman discovered that her checking account was overdrawn by $3,124.56. She also discovered that the New York bank the scammers said they were using had refused to pay the $4,500.
That’s about the time she also received a message from Craigslist saying the email she had answered and the code she used was a scam.
“Any request for it is a scam,” the Craigslist message said.
Eagle police asked the Vail Daily for information about the ad. With that information and by working with Walmart Global Investigations, they tracked the transactions to Franks, who was working in Walmart’s Beaumont, Texas, “money center.”
Between Nov. 20 and 29, when the Eagle County woman was being scammed, Franks had completed 28 transactions for $22,472.50, Walmart investigator Jay Johnston told the Eagle police.
Walmart security video shows Franks signing receipts for money orders and putting the money in her pocket, an Eagle police report said.
Eagle police’s Hinton found Franks on Facebook, wearing a Walmart vest and shirt, smiling at the camera with money stacked in the background.