Federal authorities announced a significant coordinated effort to disrupt Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens.
Operation reWired, a coordinated law enforcement effort by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Department of State, was conducted over a four-month period, resulting in 281 arrests in the United States and overseas, including 167 in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana.
Arrests were also made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom (UK). The operation also resulted in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million.
About BEC scams
BEC, also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud,” is a sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The same criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC also exploit individual victims, often real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others, by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.
This is often accomplished by impersonating a key employee or business partner after obtaining access to that person’s email account or sometimes done through romance and lottery scams. BEC scams may involve fraudulent requests for checks rather than wire transfers; they may target sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII) or employee tax records instead of, or in addition to, money; and they may not involve an actual “compromise” of an email account or computer network. Foreign citizens perpetrate many BEC scams. Those individuals are often members of transnational criminal organizations, which originated in Nigeria but have spread throughout the world.
“The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. “Cooperation is the backbone to effective law enforcement; without it, we aren’t as strong or as agile as we need to be. Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after you, no matter where you are. And to the public, we’ll keep doing whatever we can to protect you. Reporting incidents of BEC and other internet-enabled crimes to the IC3 brings us one step closer to the perpetrators.”
Repercussions of BEC scams
A number of cases involved international criminal organizations that defrauded small to large sized businesses, while others involved individual victims who transferred high dollar funds or sensitive records in the course of business. The devastating effects these cases have on victims and victim companies affect not only the individual business but also the global economy.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), nearly $1.3 billion in loss was reported in 2018 from BEC and its variant, Email Account Compromise (EAC), nearly twice as much as was reported the prior year. BEC and EAC are prevalent scams and the Justice Department along with our partners will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute the perpetrators, including money mules, regardless of where they are located.
Money mules may be witting or unwitting accomplices who receive ill-gotten funds from the victims and then transfer the funds as directed by the fraudsters. The money is wired or sent by check to the money mule who then deposits it in his or her own bank account. Usually the mules keep a fraction for “their trouble” and then wire the money as directed by the fraudster. The fraudsters enlist and manipulate the money mules through romance scams or “work-at-home” scams, though some money mules are knowing co-conspirators who launder the ill-gotten gains for profit.
Other forms of fraud
BEC scams are related to, and often conducted together with, other forms of fraud such as:
- “Romance scams,” where victims are lulled into believing they are in a legitimate relationship, and are tricked into sending or laundering money under the guise of assisting the paramour with an international business transaction, a U.S. visit, or some other cover story
- “Employment opportunities scams,” where victims are convinced to provide their PII to apply for work-from-home jobs, and, once “hired” and “overpaid” by a bad check, to wire the overpayment to the “employer’s” bank before the check bounces
- “Fraudulent online vehicle sales scams,” where victims are convinced they are purchasing a nonexistent vehicle and must pay for it by sending the codes of prepaid gift cards in the amount of the agreed upon sale price to the “seller”
- “Rental scams,” where a scammer agrees to rent a property, sends a bad check in excess of the agreed upon deposit, and requests the overpayment be returned via wire before the check bounces
- “Lottery scams,” where victims are convinced they won an international lottery but must pay fees or taxes before receiving the payout.
“The Secret Service has taken a multi-layered approach to combating Business Email Compromise schemes through our Global Investigative Operations Center (GIOC),” said U.S. Secret Service Director James M. Murray. “Domestically, the GIOC assists Secret Service Field Offices and other law enforcement partners with analysis and investigative tactics to enhance the impact of local BEC investigations. Internationally, the GIOC targets and identifies transnational organized crime networks that perpetrate these cyber-enabled financial fraud schemes. Through this approach, the Secret Service continues to strive to protect the citizens of the United States and our financial infrastructure from these complex crimes.”