David Chukwuneke Adindu was sentenced to three years and five months in prison over his participation in an elaborate BEC scheme Reuters

A Nigerian man has been sentenced to three years and five months in prison after pleading guilty to participating in a major $25m (£18.7m) global email scheme that targeted thousands of victims across the globe.

David Chukwuneke Adindu, 30, of Lagos, Nigeria was sentenced by a US judge in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday (14 December) on charges stemming from a wire fraud and identity theft conspiracy designed to defraud thousands between 2014 and 2016.

Adindu tricked his victims in a Business Email Compromise scam (BEC scam) into wiring millions of dollars into bank accounts he opened in China.

He sent phishing emails to employees of various companies, including those in the US, by impersonating supervisors or third-party vendors linked to the company. The funds transferred from unsuspecting victims were then quickly withdrawn or moved into a different bank account.

"Adindu and others carried out BEC scams by exchanging information regarding: bank accounts used for receiving funds from victims; email accounts for communicating with victims; scripts for requesting wire transfers from victims; and lists of names and email addresses for contacting and impersonating potential victims," authorities said.

According to cybersecurity expert Graham Cluley, the most sophisticated BEC scammers "actually break into corporate email accounts, discover details of the third-party suppliers who are doing work for the business, and send bogus invoices in their name for the work that has been done."

Adindu was arrested at a Houston airport in 2016. When carrying out the BEC scams between 2014 and 2016, he resided in Guangzhou, China as well as Lagos.

Prosecutors said one of his targets included a New York investment firm in June 2015. An employee at the unnamed firm received an email claiming to be an investment adviser from another firm requesting for a $25,000 wire transfer.

The unsuspecting employee later learned that the email was not actually sent by the adviser and did not comply with a second requested transfer of $75,100.

Gary Conroy, Adindu's lawyer, said his client's role was primarily focused on setting up the bank accounts in China and Hong Kong. He also noted that Adindu's prison sentence could have extended to 97 to 121 months as per federal laws.

"I think the judge accurately assessed his relatively minor role in this conspiracy," Conroy told Reuters.

In addition to his prison sentence, Adindu has been ordered to pay more than $1.4m in restitution as well.