Federal authorities announced Monday that they had "disrupted" what they call "Business Email Compromise" schemes, which involve a malicious actor sending a phishing email and somehow convincing employees with access to a company's financial credentials to transfer money fraudulently.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said that "Operation WireWire" involved a six-month sweep and multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury and the US Postal Inspection Service. In addition to the arrests, it resulted in the seizure of almost $2.4 million, and the recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
Other individuals fell victim to classic romance and lottery scams, and on some occasions, the perpetrators asked for sensitive information, such as tax records, instead of cash. The fraudsters convinced people to transfer money by hijacking email addresses and impersonating business partners. They then use the accounts to direct employees to transfer funds into bank accounts controlled by criminals.
Authorities also went after "money mules" - "witting or unwitting accomplices" who receive the money from the victims and transfer it as directed by the fraudsters.
The Department of Justice did not immediately provide a full list of those arrested, or the criminal complaints, but it said that, "since the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began formally keeping track of BEC and its variant, email account compromise (EAC), there has been a loss of over $3.7 billion reported to the IC3".
Starting in January, the coordinated enforcement action targeted hundreds of BEC scammers, officials say.
"Many people are greedy, and so there will be others ready to quickly step in to take up the task of committing these frauds".
He adds: "Of course, with all of the losses and only $2.4 million recovered, you have to believe that this group was only a small part of the problem".
"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.