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Business E-Mail Compromise fraud risk is on the rise, warns the FBI

The FBI is advising companies to be aware of the growing risk of Business E-Mail Compromise (BEC) fraud. The key points of the warning are...

  • Since 2013, when the FBI began tracking an emerging financial cyber threat called business e-mail compromise, organized crime groups have targeted large and small companies and organizations in every US state and more than 100 countries around the world. Losses are in the billions of dollars and climbing.
  • At its heart, BEC relies on the oldest trick in the con artist’s handbook: deception. But the level of sophistication in this multifaceted global fraud is unprecedented, according to law enforcement officials, and professional business people continue to fall victim to the scheme.
  • Carried out by transnational criminal organizations that employ lawyers, linguists, hackers, and social engineers, BEC can take a variety of forms. But in just about every case, the scammers target employees with access to company finances and trick them into making wire transfers to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners: except the money ends up in accounts controlled by the criminals.
  • Although the perpetrators of BEC use a variety of tactics to fool their victims, a common scheme involves the criminal group gaining access to a company’s network through a spear-phishing attack and the use of malware. Undetected, they may spend weeks or months studying the organization’s vendors, billing systems, and the CEO’s style of e-mail communication and even his or her travel schedule.

Actions that businesses can take

As sophisticated as the fraud is, there is an easy solution to thwart it, says the FBI: face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications.

“The best way to avoid being exploited is to verify the authenticity of requests to send money by walking into the CEO’s office or speaking to him or her directly on the phone,” said Special Agent Martin Licciardo. “Don’t rely on e-mail alone.”

The FBI also reports that other methods businesses have employed to safeguard against BEC are:

  • Create intrusion detection system rules that flag e-mails with extensions that are similar to company e-mail. For example, legitimate e-mail of abc_company.com would flag fraudulent e-mail of abc-company.com.
  • Create an e-mail rule to flag e-mail communications where the “reply” e-mail address is different from the “from” e-mail address shown.
  • Color code virtual correspondence so e-mails from employee/internal accounts are one color and e-mails from non-employee/external accounts are another.
  • Verify changes in vendor payment location by adding additional two-factor authentication such as having secondary sign-off by company personnel.
  • Confirm requests for transfers of funds by using phone verification as part of a two-factor authentication; use previously known numbers, not the numbers provided in the e-mail request.
  • Carefully scrutinize all e-mail requests for transfer of funds to determine if the requests are out of the ordinary.
More details.


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