Federal authorities announced today a significant coordinated effort to disrupt Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals. Operation Wire Wire, a coordinated law enforcement effort by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, was conducted over a six month period, culminating in over two weeks of intensified law enforcement activity resulting in 74 arrests in the United States and overseas, including 29 in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius and Poland. The operation also resulted in the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
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.
Among those arrested by the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service are 23 individuals who were charged in the Southern District of Florida with laundering at least $10 million from proceeds of BEC scams, including eight people charged in an indictment unsealed last week in Miami. These eight defendants are alleged to have conspired to launder proceeds from numerous BEC scams, totaling at least approximately $5 million, including approximately $1.4 million from a victim corporation in Seattle, as well as various title companies and a law firm.
Since the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began keeping track of BEC and its variant, Email Account Compromise (EAC), there has been a loss of over $3.7 billion reported to the IC3. According to the FBI, BEC/EAC fraud activity was the top online crime in 2017 with reported losses of more than $675 million.