Industry News

“Shark Tank” TV star loses almost $400,000 in Business Email Compromise scam

Barbara Corcoran, one of the business moguls who head up the judging team on US TV’s “Shark Tank” investment show, has lost nearly $400,000 to an email scammer.

According to media reports, a scammer – posing as Corcoran’s executive assistant – forwarded Corcoran’s bookkeeper an invoice earlier last week, requesting that payment be made.

The invoice asked that US $388,700.11 be transferred electronically into a German-based bank account, claiming to belong to a company called FFH CONCEPT GmbH.

Unfortunately, the truth was that the email did not really originate from Corcoran’s executive assistant.  Instead, the scammers had created an email address that looked the same as the executive assistant’s, apart from a difference in one single letter.

Sadly, Corcoran’s bookkeeper did not spot the minor difference in the email address, and so when she asked questions such as the purpose of the payment, her communication went straight to the scammers rather than the genuine assistant.

On Tuesday this week, seemingly satisfied by the answers she had been given by the scammers posing as Barbara Corcoran’s executive assistant, the bookkeeper transferred almost $400,000 into the bank account controlled by the scammers.

It was only when the bookkeeper cc’d Corcoran’s assistant directly (rather than by replying to one of the scam emails) with confirmation that the money transfer had been made that it became dramatically clear that something had gone terribly wrong.

Speaking to People magazine, Barbara Corcoran appeared remarkably upbeat about the theft:

“I lost the $388,700 as a result of a fake email chain sent to my company. It was an invoice supposedly sent by my assistant to my bookkeeper approving the payment for a real estate renovation. There was no reason to be suspicious as I invest in a lot of real estate. I was upset at first, but then remembered it was only money.”

It’s good that Corcoran is showing such a positive attitude, as it seems unlikely she will be able to recover the money from the fraudsters.

If even a businesswoman with the profile of Barbara Corcoran can have money stolen by scammers then it can happen to anyone.  All of us need to be on our guard, looking for clues that invoices might not be legitimate, or emails may have originated from outside the company, to reduce the chances of a theft succeeding.

About the author

Graham CLULEY

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.