“Johnson Chrome was born Adekunle Johnson Omitiran on January 31, 1980, in the Oshodi slums of Lagos, Nigeria. His father, Gbadebo, was a travelling businessman from southwestern Nigeria.
When Chrome was a boy, Gbadebo left Chrome’s mother, a Fulani woman from Nigeria’s north, and at one point allegedly had as many as six wives. Gbadebo studied at the University of Exeter in the U.K. and later found his way to Toronto. Chrome’s mother was left to raise him and his brother and stepbrother, with the help of her father, who took the family in. Chrome didn’t respond to interview requests for this story, but sources in Nigeria say he spent much of his childhood on the streets, getting shooed away from the local markets by vendors, who didn’t want a poor kid hanging around. According to one childhood friend, he wasn’t a troublemaker and had no criminal record. He later attended Lagos State University, and in 2003, when he was 23, his father brought him to Toronto.
Chrome enrolled at York University, where he studied economics and lived modestly in a basement apartment near campus. Less than a year later, police believe, he entered the world of fraud. In January 2004, Canada customs intercepted a suspicious parcel destined for Chrome’s apartment.
The package had come from Nigeria, and it was heavy enough to qualify for inspection. Inside, officials discovered 36 envelopes addressed to various people in the U.S., each containing a counterfeit cheque for roughly $10,000. The intended recipients had placed ads online selling various items; fraudsters, posing as brokers, wrote letters explaining they wanted to buy the item, but their buyers had already written a cheque for more than the asking price.
Would the recipient be so kind as to deposit it and wire back the difference? In most instances of the scam, the intended target is skeptical and ignores the letter, but inevitably, some obey the enclosed instructions.
By the time the bank catches on and cancels the transaction, the account holder is on the hook and the scammer is in the wind, a few thousand dollars richer.
These kinds of frauds are so popular in Nigeria that they’re now known globally as 419 scams, which refers to the section of Nigeria’s criminal code pertaining to fraud. Police claim that Chrome’s job was to mail the letters from Canada, bypassing the suspicions of U.S. Postal Service officials.”