Business email scams have led to $2.3 billion losses via rogue wire transfers

The number of companies that wired money as a result of email scams has grown 270 percent since January 2015

Over the past two and a half years, cybercriminals have managed to steal over $2.3 billion from thousands of companies worldwide by using little more than carefully crafted scam emails.

Known as business email compromise (BEC), CEO fraud or whaling, this type of attack involves criminals impersonating an organization's chief executive officer, or some other high-ranking manager, and instructing employees via email to initiate rogue wire transfers.

According to an alert issued earlier this week by the FBI, between October 2013 and February 2016, 17,642 organizations from the U.S. and 79 other countries have fallen victim to BEC attacks. The combined losses amount to over $2.3 billion, the agency said.

The scams can take different forms. Instead of an executive, the fraudsters can pose as one of the organization's foreign business partners or suppliers seeking a payment. The attackers usually do a lot of research about the targeted companies in advance to determine which of their employees handle money transfers and who they should impersonate.

In the more advanced attacks, the hackers can compromise the real email account of a company's CEO by using phishing or malware. This allows them to send wire transfer requests from the actual email address that the recipient would expect to see. In other cases they use similar domain names or address spoofing techniques.

Sometimes, the attackers gain access to a company's network or email server weeks in advance and spend time reading the emails sent between employees to understand the organization's internal workflows before they act.

The amount of the rogue transfers can range between a few thousand dollars to a few million depending on the victim's organization's size and industry profile.

Last week, AP reported that back in 2015, a finance executive from toy maker Mattel wired $3 million to a bank in China after falling victim to such an email scam. The unnamed employee received an email that appeared to be from Mattel's newly appointed CEO requesting that a payment be made to a Chinese vendor.

Reports earlier this year claimed that Belgian bank Crelan lost €70 million and Austrian airplane parts manufacturer FACC Operations lost 50 million following similar attacks.

According to the FBI's statistics, since January 2015 there has been a 270 percent rise in the number of BEC victims and losses. The agency advises organizations to be wary of wire transfer requests received via email, especially of those that invoke urgency. Employees should seek confirmation over the phone from the company's senior managers, business partners or suppliers when such requests are received.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?