More than 70 people have been arrested in the U.S. and Nigeria in recent months in a sophisticated email scam that has targeted American businesses and cost them hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone, the Wall Street Journal reports. In a sweep called Operation Wire Wire, the FBI targeted an alleged West African organized crime ring and others who sent fake messages to companies’ finance departments purporting to be a vendor for the company with an invoice requiring payment. “They are doing their research…going onto company websites and looking for the right people,” said the FBI’s Scott Smith. “They may even go as far as pulling annual reports and finding what companies they do business with and spoofing those accounts”–that is, impersonating other firms in emails to the main target.
The number of complaints to the FBI’s internet crime center about “business email compromise” scams has shot up. In 2015, the center received 8,000 complaints by either businesses or individuals who reported that money was mistakenly wired in response to fraudulent emails asking for payment. Victims reported $275 million in losses in 2015, the FBI said, and that had more than doubled by 2017 to $675 million. The losses appear to be on track to more than double again in 2018, with $685 million in losses reported by 4,081 victims for the first quarter of 2018 alone. Some criminals fake a CEO’s email account and email that company’s finance office ordering payment to a certain account. In one indictment obtained last week in Georgia, Gloria Okolie and Paul Aisosa were accused of sending a real estate attorney in Augusta an email purporting to be the seller of a local property and directing the attorney to wire proceeds of the sale to the fraudster’s bank account. The attorney mistakenly wired $246,218.83.