Crime and Punishment

Inside a $24 million investment scam: Buy the Iraqi dinar

$24 million Iraqi currency scam
$24 million Iraqi currency scam

According to prosecutors, a group of men behind an Iraqi currency scheme created a pitch that included war hero tales to lure potential investors.

"You have someone who is out there ... who is soliciting millions and millions of dollars from people just making stuff up," said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

The opportunity was pitched as a way to profit from a nearly worthless Iraqi dinar. Scammers promised profits were nearly guaranteed if investors bought dinars at today's values, and then exchanged the dinars back for dollars at a later date once the dinar exchange rate presumably improved.

A customer counts Iraqi dinars at a money changer in Baghdad.
Saad Shalash | Reuters

Investors bought the currency through the firm BH Group, which charged a 20 percent markup on average, according to prosecutors. Some of the scammers also touted false military achievements, prosecutors say.

By the time the scheme unraveled, federal officials say victims handed over nearly $24 million to the con men for the Iraqi currency they thought would make them rich.