The US Justice Department on Monday announced the arrest of 74 individuals, including 42 in the US, for their involvement in "business email compromise" (BEC) schemes created to steal money and valuable information from both businesses and individuals.
"Operation Wire Wire", a coordinated effort by Interpol, national police forces, and United States agencies including the FBI, DoJ, Homeland Security, Treasury Department, Secret Service, and the Postal Inspection Service, was conducted over a six-month period.
The operation has resulted in 42 arrests in the USA, 29 in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius and Poland.
Law enforcement also seized almost $2.4 million as part of the operation, and recovered approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers by disrupting the BEC schemes, the DOJ said.
"To avoid becoming a victim of BEC and EAC scams, verify the authenticity of any email you receive, especially those that request you to send money through a wire transfer", Turner said. The fraudsters convinced people to transfer money by hijacking email addresses and impersonating business partners.
Since the Internet Crime Complaint Center began keeping track of BEC and its variant, Email Account Compromise, over $3.7 billion in losses has been reported, officials say. By using phishing, social engineering and other types of malicious attacks and intrusions, these potential targets are tricked into making wire transfers that are believed to be the legitimate bank accounts but instead are controlled by criminals.
The same groups also ran similar scams targeting individuals, including real-estate buyers and the elderly, the bureau said.
Separate research by Proofpoint released in February claimed that by the end of 2017, almost 89% of all organizations studied were targeted by at least one BEC attack - a large jump from the 75% targeted in Q4 2016. While several people were caught and indicted in this one case, there is no indication that they arrested the mastermind behind the scheme or even know who the mastermind is.
"This operation demonstrates the FBI's commitment to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that target American citizens and their businesses", FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.