San Diego, California - Three men were charged in a federal grand jury indictment unsealed in connection with an international auto-theft operation in which defendants purchased U.S. vehicles using stolen identities and then shipped the cars to Ghana, Africa, for resale before victims became aware of the fraud.

According to the indictment, the defendants were involved in the fraudulent acquisition of more than 43 vehicles worth more than $500,000. The charges are the result of a two-year investigation by the FBI in San Diego.

Defendants Henry Addo, Edmund Seshie, and Abdul Rezak Shaib were charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. None of the defendants is in custody.

According to the indictment, Addo directed the sophisticated scheme from Internet cafés in Ghana, Africa, and used his United States-based co-conspirators, Seshie and Rezak Shaib, to do his bidding in the United States. The defendants purchased stolen credit cards and corresponding counterfeit driver’s licenses in bulk from a Singapore-based “carder” website. So-called carders are people who buy, sell, and trade online the credit card data stolen from phishing sites or from large data breaches at retail stores.

The defendants used the identities to fraudulently purchase vehicles from U.S.-based car dealerships. Addo and his co-conspirators acquired mostly Toyota Camrys and Corollas for resale in Africa but also purchased Mercedes Benz C-Class sedans.

The defendants carried out each of the 44 fraudulent vehicle purchases alleged in the indictment in the same way. First, Addo placed international phone calls from Ghana to car dealerships in the United States and assumed the identity of stolen credit card holders during the negotiation of each purchase, the indictment said. He then used a series of e-mail accounts to transmit the counterfeit driver’s licenses and stolen credit card information to United States-based car dealerships.

Next, Addo paid for the cars using the stolen credit cards and (using the same stolen credit cards) paid automobile transportation companies to deliver the vehicles to various staging locations throughout the United States. Third, once multiple vehicles were accumulated at a particular staging location, a tractor trailer transported them in cargo containers to a New Jersey port for export to Africa, where the cars were then sold for a profit by the criminal organization.

The indictment details one such fraudulent purchase that occurred in San Diego. After being contacted by Addo regarding the purchase of a 2009 Toyota Camry for approximately $17,000, the dealership became suspicious and contacted the FBI.

All three defendants are alleged to have been involved with “Sakawa,” which is a Ghanaian practice that combines modern Internet-based fraud practices targeting foreigners with traditional African religious rituals. The indictment describes how defendant Addo motivated his United States-based co-conspirators to participate in the conspiracy by invoking Sakawa.

“This case is notable in terms of its level of sophistication, its audacious methods and the callous disregard for victims,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “These charges are the first strike back on behalf of identity theft victims who now have to reclaim their good names—a frustrating task that can take years. We will continue to make these cases a priority.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn commented, “Today’s charges send a clear message to those involved in international car theft and identity theft that they will not be able to operate with impunity. The FBI and our partners will aggressively pursue organized criminal groups involved in stealing cars and identities through fraudulent schemes.”

The FBI recommends that individuals take the following steps to minimize the chance of becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Do not carry your Social Security card or any document containing your Social Security Number.
  • Do not give a business your Social Security Number just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches, and change passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Do not give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.

The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defendants

Henry Addo, aka Amah, Amma, Armah
Age: 34
Accra, Ghana

Edmund Seshie, aka Eddie Blay
Age: 42
Columbus, Ohio

Abdul Rezak Shaib, aka Zak
Age: 28
Bronx, New York

Summary of Charges

Conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1349
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Mail fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1341
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Wire fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1343
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

Aggravated identity theft—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1028A
Maximum penalty: two years’ imprisonment consecutive to underlying offense

Criminal forfeiture—Title 28, U.S.C., Section 2461(c)
Maximum penalty: Forfeiture of proceeds