Watching Your Wallet: FBI warns of sophisticated email scam
(WILX) - Ransomware schemes always get headlines, but it’s not the biggest cybercrime we face.
Say you find the perfect house and go to the closing to make the big payment. Weeks later you are notified by a bank that the money never went through.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars gone in the blink of an eye. With no warning any step of the process was wrong. It’s called Business Email Compromise and according to the FBI, it made up 37% of all loses in 2020 -- more than $1.8 billion.
“It’s one of the most prominent forms of internet fraud that we see,” said FBI agent Michael French.
French is a member of an FBI cyber squad. He said the scheme is complicated and it usually originates outside of the U.S. with hackers contacting legitimate businesses, getting control of an email and stealing the businesses’ money by convincing workers to alter the business’ bank wiring instructions.
“They regularly target small to medium size businesses,” French said. “Payroll processors, contractors, universities, using spoofed or compromised email accounts.”
House closings or real estate transfers also a big target.
“Either getting into the legitimate email account for a title attorney or retailer or using a spoofed email address for the client and asking to change the bank account instructions where the money should be wired,” French said.
The crime is so sophisticated that scammers often use people inside the U.S. to move the money -- they’re called money mules. Some of them may be victims of other schemes and not even aware they are moving stolen money.
If you or your business is making a big purchase, always try to do the transaction in-person.
“Call them on the phone go see them in-person. Don’t do it online, electronically or even via fax,” French said. “Do it as much as you can in-person or on the phone.”
If you are suddenly asked to change how you are paying for something -- ask questions. Make sure you call the person you usually deal with directly. Don’t rely on an email.
If you think your email could be the target of a crime like this, make sure you have two factor authentication turned on for an extra layer of security.
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