The FBI is warning that business email compromise (BEC) has resulted in actual and attempted losses of more than a billion dollars to businesses worldwide.
The financial fraud tactic—which the Feds say is “more sophisticated than any similar scam the FBI has seen before”—centers on social engineering tactics that target company accountants with emails purporting to be from their superiors and the CEO. It first appeared in the wild around 2013, but has really taken off since then. The average individual loss is about $6,000, and the average loss to BEC victims is $130,000.
The FBI gave one chilling example:
The accountant for a US company has received an email from her chief executive, who was on vacation out of the country, requesting a transfer of funds on a time-sensitive acquisition that required completion by the end of the day. The CEO said a lawyer would contact the accountant to provide further details.
“It was not unusual for me to receive e-mails requesting a transfer of funds,” the accountant later said, and when she was contacted by the lawyer via email, she noted the appropriate letter of authorization—including her CEO’s signature over the company’s seal—and followed the instructions to wire more than $737,000 to a bank in China.
The next day, when the CEO happened to call regarding another matter, the accountant mentioned that she had completed the wire transfer the day before. The CEO said he had never sent the e-mail and knew nothing about the alleged acquisition.
Since the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began tracking BEC scams in late 2013, it has compiled statistics on more than 7,000 U.S. companies that have been victimized—with total dollar losses exceeding $740 million. Since the beginning of 2015 there has been a 270% increase in identified BEC victims. Victim companies have come from all 50 U.S. states and nearly 80 countries abroad. The majority of the fraudulent transfers end up in Chinese banks.
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