A Nigerian man who won refugee status to stay in the UK by claiming he was persecuted in Nigeria for being gay before going on to have three children with three women in Britain has been arrested for masterminding a £220,000 Facebook and eBay parcel fraud racket.
Asylum seeker Saheed Azeez, 33, had been allowed to settle in the UK after claiming he faced persecution by Boko Haram militants, but after moving to the country he had three children with three women, marrying the third. He now says he is bisexual.
As he settled in Wigan, Greater Manchester, Azeez began working with Nigerian fraudsters to establish a network of strangers for a ‘sophisticated and well-resourced’ sales scam to steal items being sold on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and WhatsApp, Mail Online reported.
The report said victims selling high-value goods were persuaded to send their items to a number of addresses on the promise of being paid on arrival, but Azeez would simply pick up the goods and sell them in his brother’s electronics shop.
Over 14 months, up to 272 victims sent goods worth a combined £220,000 to the homes of strangers that Azeez persuaded to take part in the scam, giving his ‘partners’ a cut from each sale in return for taking delivery of the ill-gotten goods.
Police later tracked down Azeez as he was dropping off one of his young sons at a primary school. As he was about to be detained, he reportedly hid three smartphones used in the scam inside the boy’s school bag, which were found by a teaching assistant.
The phones were found to contain videos made by Azeez: one sent to an underworld contact named ‘Baddest Boy’ showed images of used smartphones stolen from sellers.
At Bolton Crown Court, Azeez admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and plotting to possess criminal property.
He will be sentenced next week but faces up to six years in jail.
Nine householders who allowed their addresses to be used as ‘drops’ in the scam will also be sentenced next year.
The scam took place between September 2020 and November 2021 after former Yodel delivery driver Azeez began providing ‘delivery services’ through his own firm for online fraudsters who used Nigerian phones to dupe Facebook and eBay users based in the UK.
Police began to establish a pattern of parcels being sent to addresses linked to Azeez and swooped on him in November 2021 as he dropped his son off at school, later seizing the phones he tried to hide.
Mr Andy Evans, prosecuting, said: ‘The phones were accessed and interrogated and clearly showed his role in three online frauds.
‘He had provided his services to online fraudsters who contacted him from Nigerian registered phone numbers.
‘Azeez wasn’t necessarily the architect of the fraud but he provided his services as a sub-contractor.’
The court heard that the network of fraudsters would be told ahead of time to expect a delivery under a fake name. Each of them, the court heard, was ‘desperate for money’, and were encouraged to recruit others for the scam.
Mr Evans added: ‘The exact monetary value of the parcel frauds and physical items which passed through Azeez’s hands will never be known but the number of the victims impacted by him number in the hundreds.
‘This was a targeted and well-resourced dishonesty and he played a leading role in the group conspiracy. He was the sole link to the online fraudsters. It was a sophisticated fraud which required considerable planning to build the network.’
The court heard Azeez sold off the items through his brother’s electrical shop Eze TV in Wigan, Greater Manchester before passing on a the profits to his fellow fraudsters after taking his own cut.
He was also linked to the creation of 37 untraceable bank accounts in six different names which accepted cryptocurrency as part of the racket. He himself funnelled £40,000 of dirty money through his own account.
More than 30 victims gave statements expressing their anger and frustration at being duped. The court heard other desperate sellers who sent out parcels were even ‘pressured’ into sending over money to the fraudsters when they were wrongly assured they would get their items back.
In mitigation, defence counsel Chloe Fordham said Azeez received only a ‘small percentage’ of the profits – adding that he fears being deported back to Nigeria ‘more than anything’ following his conviction.
Ms Fordham said: ‘Mr Azeez was born into a Muslim family in Nigeria but the sad reality was he and his family were persecuted in Nigeria.
‘He was exploited as a teenager and as an adult entered into a homosexual relationship although now he now considers to himself to be bisexual.
‘As a result of that, he was targeted by Boko Haram and was told he was was going to be killed. On one occasion he was badly beaten and tortured and there are documents and photographs to back that up.
‘There is no question as to whether his account was credible. His gay partner arranged for him to escape to Nigeria but he was sadly later killed too.
‘When the defendant arrived here, he was homeless and he then moved to Bolton with a male who also exploited him and he was later diagnosed with depression and PTSD.
‘He now has three children in the UK by three different mothers and is married to the mother of the third child. He has parental responsibilities to all the children. He now now considers to himself to be bisexual.’
Miss Fordham added: ‘His involvement in these matters began when he thought was doing legitimate work delivering and collecting parcels but pressure was put on him to collect parcels which he knew contained items obtained through fraud.
‘Set against the background of someone who has been exploited, tortured, and abused in the past he was not someone who was able to withstand such pressures.
‘He was following instructions given by others and has since been receiving threats from the fraudsters via his partner and ex-partner about presumably not outing them.’