SuperTalk Mississippi

An online scam sends seven to the pen

WASHINGTON – Seven defendants, including one Mississippian, have been sentenced for their roles in an online fraud schemes involving counterfeit checks, “mystery shopper” websites and work-from-home scams.

According to a statement issued by the Justice Department, Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tennessee, each pleaded guilty on April 12, 2016, to one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property and one count of use of mail and an interstate facility to distribute proceeds of a racketeering activity.

Hassan and Jeffers were each sentenced to 120 months in prison.

Ann Louise Franzen, 70, of Kiln, Mississippi; Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, California; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, California; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, California, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property.

Franzen, Barnard, Fee, Thomas, and White were each sentenced to 60 months in prison.

According to admissions made in connection with their plea agreements, all seven defendants were members of a large-scale international financial fraud conspiracy that included romance scams through on-line dating sites, check fraud, secret shopper schemes, and personal assistant work-from-home schemes.

Some of the defendants started as romance scam victims before later becoming knowing participants in the counterfeit check fraud.

Victims were sent checks with mystery shopper and personal assistant instructions.  The checks, which were counterfeit,  would bounce after the victims transmitted  proceeds to various locations in the United States which were then laundered for transmission to Nigeria.  Victims were then liable to their banks for the amount of checks and often hundreds of dollars in bank fees.

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