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Interpol arrests scammers linked to Nigerian “Air Lords” crime syndicate

Interpol and South African officials detained last week two Nigerian nationals in Pretoria for their roles in a sprawling cybercrime campaign that stole more than $1.8 million from victims via online romance scams and business email compromise (BEC) operations.

Authorities did not release the names of the two suspects, but local media reported that the two are aged 39 and 42, respectively, and members of the Air Lords criminal syndicate.

Also known as the National Association of Airlords, Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC), or just Eiye, the organization was established in 1963 as a student organization but slowly evolved into a secret cult and confraternity and eventually into a fully-fledged crime syndicate and is also involved in sex trafficking and sex slavery.

The arrests last week mark the first time Air Lords members were arrested on cybercrime-related charges.

Previously, past Interpol and FBI operations had gone after suspects linked to Black Axe, another Nigerian confraternity that devolved into a global crime syndicate.

While Black Axe members have been arrested for cybercrime activities as far back as 2015, international law enforcement started heavily concentrating on the group cybercrime “division” last year, with several crackdowns in September 2021, October 2021, April 2022, and May 2022.

In September 2021, Europol also detained 106 members of the Italian Neapolitan mafia for their roles in cybercrime-related operations, such as SIM swapping attacks, phishing, and vishing, showing a worrying trend where classic crime syndicates are slowly getting more and more involved with cybercrime activities.

While Nigerian threat actors have always been active in the online space since the 90s, with online romance and 419 scams being their area of expertise, a 2018 CrowdStrike report [PDF] warned that Nigerian groups were slowly moving into the BEC scam landscape and specifically gave an early warning regarding Black Axe, which, based on the recent arrests, seems to have been pretty accurate.

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