Six million dollars was recovered and 73 people arrested in the last two weeks during an FBI crack-down on schemes to compromise business emails.
In the scheme, scammers would intercept and highjack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including senior citizens, FBI spokesman Huston Pullen said.
The U.S. Department of Justice organized a counter effort, “Operation WireWire,” over a six-month period. The coordinated enforcement involved the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service
The six-month investigation culminated in more than two weeks of intensified law enforcement activity, Pullen said. Arrests were made both in the United States and overseas, primarily in Nigeria.
The FBI Omaha Field Office contributed information about businesses in Nebraska that were affected, Pullen said.
Pullen said in September 2016 and April 2017, the FBI Omaha Field Office arrested two Nigerians in the U.S. Both of them remain in custody. Also, a Nigerian who was involved in “romance fraud” and caused significant losses to individuals in Nebraska and elsewhere, was arrested in Poland by the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI Omaha Field Office also provided information to the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and continues to work closely with international partners to pursue subjects abroad, Pullen said.
Over the course of the last two years, the FBI Omaha field office indicted 8 subjects involved. One of FBI Omaha’s cases involves more than 70 victim businesses, some in Nebraska, with more than $7 million in losses for those businesses.
Pullen said the FBI Omaha Field Office continues to investigate similar cases in the area.
BEC, also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud,” is a sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company finances and businesses, working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.
Pullen said the same criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC exploit individuals, often real estate purchasers, the elderly and others, by convincing them into making wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.
This is often accomplished by impersonating a key employee or business partner after obtaining access to that person’s email account. It is sometimes done through lottery and romance scams.
BEC scams may involve fraudulent requests for checks, rather than wire transfers. They may target sensitive personal information or employee tax records instead of, or in addition to, money, Pullen said.
The scams may or may not involve an actual “compromise” of an email account or computer network, he said.
Foreign citizens, often members of transnational criminal organizations, are often involved, and often originate in Nigeria and spread throughout the world, Pullen said.
Randall Thysse, special agent in charge of the FBI Omaha field office, said the FBI is not going to stop investigating “these egregious acts.”
FBI Omaha expressed thanks to the victims who came forward and reported BEC incidents. Many BEC and other cyber crime incidents go unreported.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Nebraska, the DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, DOJ’s Office of International Affairs, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and other domestic and foreign partners all helped with the effort.
Pullen said complaints and tips submitted to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) help investigators working these kinds of cases. IC3 is a joint venture of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
The IC3 staff reviews complaints, looking for patterns or other indicators of significant criminal activity, and refers investigative packages of complaints to the appropriate law enforcement authorities in a particular city or region.
The FBI provides a variety of resources relating to BEC through the IC3, which can be reached at www.ic3.gov.