The following information has been provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The FBI has issued several PSA Alerts regarding this fraud scheme. PlainsCapital Bank is providing the information from these Alerts to assist its customers in being aware of this scheme and reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
Business E-mail Compromise (BEC) is defined as a sophisticated scam targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The E-mail Account Compromise (EAC) component of BEC targets individuals that perform wire transfer payments.
The techniques used in the BEC/EAC scam have become increasingly similar, prompting the IC3 to begin tracking these scams as a single crime type1 in 2017.
The scam is carried out when a subject compromises legitimate business e-mail accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds.
Most victims report using wire transfers as a common method of transferring funds for business purposes; however, some victims report using checks as a common method of payment. The fraudsters will use the method most commonly associated with their victim’s normal business practices. The scam has evolved to include the compromising of legitimate business e-mail accounts and requesting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Wage and Tax Statement (W-2) forms for employees, and may not always be associated with a request for transfer of funds.
The victims of the BEC/EAC scam range from small businesses to large corporations. The victims continue to deal in a wide variety of goods and services, indicating that no specific sector is targeted more than another.
It is largely unknown how victims are selected; however, the subjects monitor and study their selected victims using social engineering techniques prior to initiating the BEC scam. The subjects are able to accurately identify the individuals and protocols necessary to perform wire transfers within a specific business environment. Victims may also first receive “phishing” e-mails requesting additional details regarding the business or individual being targeted (name, travel dates, etc.).
Some individuals reported being a victim of various Scareware or Ransomware cyber intrusions immediately preceding a BEC incident. These intrusions can initially be facilitated through a phishing scam in which a victim receives an e-mail from a seemingly legitimate source that contains a malicious link. The victim clicks on the link, and it downloads malware, allowing the subject(s) unfettered access to the victim’s data, including passwords or financial account information.
The BEC/EAC scam is linked to other forms of fraud, including but not limited to: romance, lottery, employment, and rental scams. The victims of these scams are usually U.S. based and may be recruited as unwitting money mules2. The mules receive the fraudulent funds in their personal accounts and are then directed by the subject to quickly transfer the funds to another bank account, usually outside the U.S., upon direction, mules may open bank accounts and/or shell corporations to further the fraud scheme.
SCENARIOS OF BEC/EAC
Based on IC3 complaints and other complaint data, there are five main scenarios by which this scam is perpetrated.
Scenario 1: Business Working with a Foreign Supplier
A business that typically has a longstanding relationship with a supplier is requested to wire funds for an invoice payment to an alternate, fraudulent account. The request may be made via telephone, facsimile, or e-mail. If an e-mail is received, the subject will spoof the e-mail request so it appears similar to a legitimate request. Likewise, requests made via facsimile or telephone call will closely mimic a legitimate request. This particular scenario has also been referred to as the “Bogus Invoice Scheme,” “Supplier Swindle,” and “Invoice Modification Scheme.”
Scenario 2: Business Executive Receiving or Initiating a Request for a Wire Transfer
The e-mail accounts of high-level business executives (Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technology Officer, etc.) are compromised. The account may be spoofed or hacked. A request for a wire transfer from the compromised account is made to a second employee within the company who is typically responsible for processing these requests. In some instances, a request for a wire transfer from the compromised account is sent directly to the financial institution with instructions to urgently send funds to bank “X” for reason “Y.” This particular scenario has been referred to as “CEO Fraud,” “Business Executive Scam,” “Masquerading,” and “Financial Industry Wire Frauds.”
Scenario 3: Business Contacts Receiving Fraudulent Correspondence through Compromised E-mail
An employee of a business has his or her personal e-mail hacked. This personal e-mail may be used for both personal and business communications. Requests for invoice payments to fraudster-controlled bank accounts are sent from this employee’s personal e-mail to multiple vendors identified from this employee’s contact list. The business may not become aware of the fraudulent requests until that business is contacted by a vendor to follow up on the status of an invoice payment.
Scenario 4: Business Executive and Attorney Impersonation
Victims report being contacted by fraudsters who typically identify themselves as lawyers or representatives of law firms and claim to be handling confidential or time-sensitive matters. This contact may be made via either phone or e-mail. Victims may be pressured by the fraudster to act quickly or secretly in handling the transfer of funds. This type of BEC scam may occur at the end of the business day or work week and be timed to coincide with the close of business of international financial institutions.
Scenario 5: Data Theft
Fraudulent requests are sent utilizing a business executive’s compromised e-mail. The entities in the business organization responsible for W-2s or maintaining PII, such as the human resources department, bookkeeping, or auditing section, have frequently been identified as the targeted recipients of the fraudulent request for W-2 and/or PII. Some of these incidents are isolated and some occur prior to a fraudulent wire transfer request. Victims report they have fallen for this new BEC scenario even if they were able to successfully identify and avoid the traditional BEC scam. This data theft scenario of the BEC scam first appeared just prior to the 2016 tax season.
- Carefully scrutinize all e-mail requests for transfers of funds to determine if the requests are out of the ordinary.
A complete list of self-protection strategies is available on the United States Department of Justice website www.justice.gov in the publication titled “Best Practices for Victim Response and Reporting of Cyber Incidents.”
Information from the FBI, for full alert information go to www.fbi.gov