Ramon Abbas, a Nigerian social media influencer known to his followers as “Hushpuppi,” has been paying for his luxury lifestyle with organized crime. Abbas–who has nearly 3 million Instagram followers– is currently up against a 20 year prison sentence.
Abbas is considered by the FBI to be one of the world’s most high-profile fraudsters and faces a prison sentence in the US after pleading guilty to money laundering.
He was known as a “Yahoo Boy” in the Oworonshoki region of Nigeria northeast of Lagos. Yahoo Boy’s utilized the early days of Yahoo email addresses in Nigeria to create accounts in other people’s names, using them to start online relationships with people and soliciting money from them.
“They came up with the idea of stealing identities. And then with that identity theft, they went into dating [scams],” said Dr. Adedeji Oyenuga, a cybercrime expert at Lagos State University.
After the initial success of their scheme, many Yahoo Boys–including Abbas– moved on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Abbas moved to the Asian country in 2014 and then later decamped to Dubai in 2017.
Hushpuppi gained his following while planning crimes abroad
But it wasn’t until 2019 that Abbas’ Instagram personality–and crimes– shifted into high gear when Abbas attempted to launder 13 million euros stolen by North Korean hackers from the Maltese Bank of Valetta in February of 2019.
“We received calls from our members telling us they were sending money using Bank of Valletta’s platform to their foreign suppliers,” said Abigail Mamo, the chief executive of the Maltese chamber of small and medium enterprises.
“Their foreign suppliers did not receive the money… We’re talking about thousands of euros.”
The bank said it was able to save 10 million euros.
“Damn,” Abbas said in a text to one of his associates in messages acquired by the FBI.
The reply indicates that the next crime was already ahead: “Next one is in few weeks; will let you know when it’s ready. Too bad they caught on, or it would have been a nice pay out.”
Abbas’ next scheme took the form of a Business Email Compromise (BEC) involving a Premier League Football Club. Abbas attempted to set up a bank account in Mexico that would be used to intercept a payment from a private firm to the unnamed football club, utilizing a fake email address that appears to be the same as the supplier’s, with only a single number or letter being changed to confuse the victim.
Criminals typically use the fake email to try to convince their victims that they’ve switched banks and need the funds redirected to a new account. In Abbas’ case, him and his associates were attempting to get the funds sent to the Mexican account.
But their plan was thwarted as the account’s location set off alarm bells.
“Brother I can’t send from UK to Mexico,” Abbas’s close accomplice told him. “They keep finding out.”
Abbas kept his illegal activities in the shadows while displaying another side of his lifestyle on instagram to much fanfare. Abbas, using the Hushpuppi instagram handle, called himself the “Billionaire Gucci Master” and frequently posted himself wearing the Italian luxury brand’s clothing alongside sports cars and beautiful vacation destinations like Santorini.