The Nigerian prince scam is back, and this time going after smaller businesses instead of corporates. On Monday, the FBI announced the arrest of 74 alleged email scammers from seven countries, including 15 money mules and 42 scammers in the US alone.
The elaborate scam had been targeting employees from medium-sized businesses that had access to finances or wire transfer payments. Once scammers gained access to an employee’s email account, they posed as that person or as a business partner.
A typical BEC (Business E-Mail Compromise) scheme, also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud,” the financial fraud campaign started in Nigeria and rapidly spread to other countries. Email scams can also target individuals, seeking to trick them into making payments for real estate or to help someone in need, and even tech giants such as Google and Facebook have already lost millions in email scams.
Dubbed “Operation WireWire,” the investigation took six months and involved a joint effort of overseas local law enforcement and US federal authorities including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The investigation led to a significant number of arrests in just two weeks in the US, Canada, Nigeria, Mauritius and Poland. Authorities blocked wire transfers to successfully recover some $14 million, and they confiscated $2.4 million.
“A number of cases charged in this operation involved international criminal organizations that defrauded small- to large-sized businesses, while others involved individual victims who transferred high-dollar amounts or sensitive records in the course of business,” said the FBI.
“The devastating impacts these cases have on victims and victim companies affect not only the individual business but also the global economy. Since the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began formally keeping track of BEC and its variant, e-mail account compromise (EAC), there has been a loss of over $3.7 billion reported to the IC3.”