In December 2020, The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York stated that two US Army reservists pled guilty for their roles in a $3 million catfishing and money laundering conspiracy.
Prosecutors allege that the two military personnel, Joseph Asan and Charles Ogozy, and their co-conspirators scammed unsuspecting victims for roughly 18 months, from February 2018 to September 2019, by impersonating corporate email accounts and gaining access to compromised accounts. They would then pose as employees and third parties doing business with the company in order to dupe legitimate personnel into transferring funds to accounts controlled by the conspirators. Asan and Ogozy were also involved in a number of online romance frauds, in which they displayed fake identities to deceive older men and women in order to persuade them to transfer money.
The money collected by Asan and Ogozy from these frauds amounted to over $3 million, and they were laundered through bank accounts they set up in the names of fake firms, which they convinced bank personnel had legitimate interests in real estate, shipping, and public relations. The money was then taken out and transmitted to each other and Nigerian co-conspirators. The offenders face up to 30 years in prison.
Cybercrime and frauds like those perpetrated by Asan and Ogozy are on the rise. Consumers lost $201 million in 2019 due to romance scams, which is 40% more than in 2018. Furthermore, according to cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, the vast majority of businesses – about 90% — were victims of phishing attempts in 2019. This tendency is expected to continue in the face of a pandemic that is generating significant changes in how we connect, both emotionally and professionally.
Financial organizations must be cautious when screening current and new consumers. Understanding who their customers are and what type of transactional activity they might expect is crucial to preventing fraud.
US Strikes Syrian Government with Sanctions
New sanctions on Syria were announced on December 22 by the US government, which target 18 individuals and businesses linked to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Assad's Secondary restrictions may be imposed on people who interact with the designated individuals and businesses.
Bashar Assad's wife, Asma al-Assad, and members of her close family, as well as the Central Bank of Syria, have been designated by the US Treasury as having helped the government consolidate power using her network of organizations and civil society groups, according to the US Treasury. According to Joel Rayburn, Assad's counselor Lina al-Kinayeh and her husband Mohammed Masouti, a parliamentarian, are a "regime mafia power couple."
The 18 designations are the most recent sanctions action in response to the United States' Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019. The legislation was signed into law a year ago, four years after the UN Security Council officially enacted End 2254, calling for a truce and a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict. It went into effect on June 17.
Ever since the Trump administration has imposed penalties on dozens of individuals and companies, it claims they are responsible for prolonging the Syrian crisis. With the upcoming Biden administration, Rayburn feels this policy is unlikely to alter.
It is uncertain if these actions will have the desired impact of pushing Assad into seeking a diplomatic settlement. Meanwhile, due to Syria's almost decade-long civil conflict and the epidemic, the country's economic position has deteriorated. Additional restrictions, while not aimed specifically at humanitarian aid, may worsen the situation.
Changes and Complexity Overflow with Brexit
The UK and the EU agreed on a broad trade deal that will govern UK-EU ties from January 1 onwards, after months of tense talks.
The agreement, technically known as the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, must still be agreed by each of the 27 EU member states before being confirmed by the European Parliament; nevertheless, initial reactions have been favorable. As a result, and because the transition period ends on December 31, there are intentions to proceed with the agreement in good faith and legally ratify it later in 2021. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised each other.
According to at least one researcher, the ordinary UK resident will see little difference at first. However, the 1,255-page draft agreement does contain major improvements to day-to-day company operations, despite strange references to defunct technologies and antiquated encryption standards. Financial institutions must ensure that they are familiar with the regulations and that their systems are adjusted properly.
For starters, a separate UK sanctions system will be in effect. While the UK's sanctions regime presently consists largely of designations that overlap with those of the EU and UN, once Brexit takes root, it may begin to differ from those regimes. To exemplify, Clifford Chance alludes to the UK's propensity to apply unilateral Magnitsky-style penalties on Russian, Saudi, and Belarusian citizens. The legal firm also points out that the sanctions regimes would differ: UK sanctions cover businesses in which sanctioned organizations own or control 50% or more of the company.