Tag Archives: Scam

FBI: Email Scams Take $3.1 Billion Toll on Businesses


Business-related inbox scams are reaching epidemic levels with the total cost to business reaching a whopping $3.1 billion. The dire warning comes from the FBI that says skyrocketing losses represent a 1,300 percent increase since January 2015.

Identified by the FBI as business e-mail compromise (BEC) crimes, the scams attempt to trick email recipients into money wire transfers, forwarding sensitive employee data such as W-2 data, paying fake invoices, or hijacking employee email accounts in order to use stolen email identities to win the confidence of scam targets.

The FBI has stepped up its BEC awareness campaign less than a month since it released its annual Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). In that report, the FBI reported U.S. businesses were hit hardest by BEC scams in 2015 with 7,838 complaints and losses of more than $263 million.

On Tuesday, the FBI refreshed those BEC numbers reporting 22,143 worldwide BEC victims representing $3.1 billion in losses since January 2015. Closer to home the FBI reports 14,032 U.S. BEC victims representing $961 million dollars in losses between October 2013 and May 2016.

The FBI data shows U.S. businesses are disproportionately affected by BEC crimes with 88 percent of all worldwide victims being U.S.-based and 90 percent of losses coming from U.S. companies.

“The BEC scam continues to grow, evolve, and target businesses of all sizes,” wrote the FBI. “The scam has been reported by victims in all 50 states and in 100 countries. Reports indicate that fraudulent transfers have been sent to 79 countries with the majority going to Asian banks located within China and Hong Kong.”

Security experts say these types of cybercrimes are difficult to protect against. “With BEC attacks there is no malware involved. You are exploiting human trust and business processes that involve email,” said Ryan Kalember, SVP cybersecurity strategy at the security firm Proofpoint in an interview with Threatpost reacting to the May IC3 report.

Despite the low-tech email attack vector, the FBI warns business e-mail compromise attacks can be extremely sophisticated. Attackers can lie in wait for extended periods of time studying whom a business does business with and what the business protocols are for wire transfers.

Security experts tell Threatpost they are seeing an uptick in elaborate and sophisticated ruses that involve CEOs, CFOs, COOs, HR departments and accounting. Attacks are become more sophisticated involving criminals going so far as monitoring a CEO’s social media feed to best time and color a fake request for a wire transfer.

The FBI says that BEC can also be springboards to other types of crimes with victims reporting romance, lottery, employment, and rental scams as well. In some instances, the FBI warns, victims are unwittingly drawn into becoming “money mules.” In these instances, money is transferred into target account and then directed to quickly transferred to a second offshore account or shell corporation.

Tips for steering clear of becoming a BEC victim, according to the FBI, include:

  • Be careful what is posted to social media and company websites, especially job duties/descriptions, hierarchical information, and out of office details.
  • Be suspicious of requests for secrecy or pressure to take action quickly.
  • Consider additional IT and financial security procedures, including the implementation of a 2-step verification processes for out of band and communication
  • Consider implementing two factor authentication for corporate e-mail accounts.
  • Do not use the “Reply” option to respond to any business e-mails. Instead, use the “Forward” option and either type in the correct e-mail address or select it from the e-mail address book to ensure the intended recipient’s correct e-mail address is used.


Do Not Respond To This Kind Of Email. It’s A Scam!

Criminals are tricking corporate employees into giving them payroll information. Here is how the scam works – and how you can prevent yourself from falling prey to it.


IMAGE: Getty Images

Over the past couple months there have multiple well-publicized cases of criminals tricking corporate employees into giving them payroll information that the crooks then use to commit various crimes: commonly, employees’ identities are stolen and phony tax returns are filed in order to obtain illegal “refunds” of “overpayments,” but thieves continue to find other ways to monetize the data including filing fraudulent unemployment claims.

Here is how the scam works – and how you can prevent yourself (and your business) from falling prey to it.

In the first stage of the attack criminals perform reconnaissance – often checking social media for information that employees have “overshared.” Criminals love it when employees post nonpublic information about some work-related endeavor, for example, because anyone who later claims to be an employee of the company and refers to this information when contacting a real employee will be far more likely to be believed than someone who simply claims to work for the firm but does not know any “insider” information. Criminals also search social media and the Internet in general to find the right “target” employees within the firm whose data they are trying to steal.

After performing reconnaissance, criminals contact their targets – often via a “spear phishing” type email message, but sometimes through other media such as via social media, texting, or telephone. Spear phishing refers to communications targeting a specific intended victim and which impersonates a party whom the receiver is expected to trust. Several recent attacks have involved communications in which the “CEO” or other high level executive of a firm asks an employee with access to payroll information to send him or her the W2s for all employees of the firm; others forms of the attack ask an employee with authorization to make wire transfers to pay some particular party, others may ask the employee to visit some website for some purpose, when, in fact, the site actually installs malware.

Snapchat, Mercy Housing, and Sprouts Farmers Market have all fallen prey to the W2 scam within the last couple months, thereby exposing their employees to all sorts of risks. Other firms have been duped by similar attacks and sent out spreadsheets with personnel information, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is believed to have recently issued about $100-Million in fraudulent wire transfer payments as a result of receiving instructions fraudulent to do so.

Here are some ways to help prevent this problem from harming you and your business:

1.       Train employees not to overshare on social media and provide them with technology that warns them if they are doing so.

2.       Train employees not to respond to email requests for sensitive data without picking up the phone and speaking with the person requesting the data to be sent.

3.       Understand — and make sure your employees understand — how phishing works, and why it is a serious problem that is not getting better with time.

4.       Train employees to think about the risk level of requests. As Jonathan Sander, Vice President at Lieberman Software, noted, “If a payroll employee wants one W2, then maybe you just let them have it. If that same employee wants all of them all at once, then there should be something that triggers to say this is a different sort of request that deserves more scrutiny.”

5.       Utilize encryption – if a sensitive document is sent encrypted, an unauthorized party receiving it will have difficulty opening it. As Brad Bussie, Director of Product Management at STEALTHbits Technologies, phrased it: “As a best practice, personal identifiable information should never be transmitted in an un-encrypted format.” I agree.

6.       Use secure email – If a firm has the resources to do so, email security technology can help – but, do not rely on such technology to prevent problems since social engineering can come in through other channels (texting, social media messages, phone calls, etc.), and, sometimes problematic emails can still make it through. Nonetheless, reducing the threat via email can be useful; as Craig Young, Computer Security Researcher at Tripwire, noted “The use of cryptographically signed emails and securely configured mail services with advanced spam filters, sender policy framework (SPF), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) configurations can also greatly reduce the likelihood of a successful e-mail scam.” Keep in mind that by reducing the number of problematic emails that reach users, email security technology can cause people to become less vigilant – so make sure to reinforce the need for vigilance via training.

7.       Utilize Data Loss Prevention systems – these types of systems can block certain types of files and attachments from going out to external email addresses.

These are just a few ideas to think about, there are several others !!!