Posts Tagged: Back Office Group


29
Aug 11

Experienced Money Mule, Will Travel

I’ve written a great deal about “money mules,” people looking for part-time employment who unwittingly or willingly help organized cyber thieves launder stolen funds. The most common question I get about money mules is: “Do any of them ever get prosecuted?” The answer is generally “no” because it’s hard to prove that these mules weren’t scammed. But recently, I encountered a mule who made it abundantly clear that he understood exactly what he was doing.

A complicit mule negotiating a new deal.

In June 2011, I was investigating an online banking heist against a company called Jackson Properties. Thieves had broken into Jackson’s computers and stolen the firm’s online banking credentials. They added a half dozen money mules to the company’s payroll account, using mules they’d acquired from a gang I call the Back Office group. This mule gang uses multiple bogus corporate names, and the Back Office front company that supplied the mules in this attack was called AMR Company.

Reginald, a 45-year-0ld Texas resident, was among the mules hired by AMR Company. Reggie communicated with the mule recruiters by logging into a Web site set up by the fake company, and checking for new messages. A source who had figured out how to view the administrator’s account (and hence, all messages on the server) sent me some choice screenshots from several mule communications.

On June 7, the mule recruiters sent Reginald a transfer of $4,910, claiming that Jackson Properties was its client. Reginald was to withdraw the money in cash and wire it overseas, minus a small commission. The payment never landed in his account; it was blocked when Jackson detected the fraudulent transactions and worked with its bank to get them reversed.

But that apparently did not deter our Reginald, who told his recruiter and manager at AMR Company that he understood the whole thing was a scam, and that he had done this sort of thing before. He said he was ready and willing to open additional bank accounts to help with future fraud schemes.

On June 8, Reggie signed into his account at AMR Company and wrote the following to Sarah, his erstwhile boss:

“Let me say from the start. I knew what this was about. I’ve had success working with others like yourself in the past, especially comrades from Russia. I know this game well. If you want to have an ally in the US, I’m your guy. I have more accounts. I’d like us to try again, with another account…Listen Sarah, I am all for making some money. I couldn’t care less about our banking system, anything we can get out [sic] it. Lets [sic] do it. I cant do this without you. I can open up accounts in different names, that’s easy for me. But I have no way of funding them like you do. Think it over and see if there’s a way we can make some money. Even if we only succeed one time…we will still succeeded. I have another account ready to go. Respond to me and I will send you the name, routing, account num, etc.”

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16
Aug 11

eThieves Steal $217k from Arena Firm

Cyber thieves stole $217,000 last month from the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA), a nonprofit organization responsible for operating the Qwest Center and other gathering places in Omaha, Nebraska.

Lea French, MECA’s chief financial officer, said the trouble began when an employee with access to the organization’s online accounts opened a booby-trapped email attachment containing password-stealing malware.

The attackers used MECA’s online banking credentials to add at least six people to the payroll who had no prior business with the organization. Those individuals, known as “money mules,” received fraudulent transfers from MECA’s bank account and willingly or unwittingly helped the fraudsters launder the money.

French said the attackers appeared to be familiar with the payroll system, and wasted no time setting up a batch of fraudulent transfers.

“They knew exactly what they were doing, knew how to create a batch, enter it in, release it,” she said. “They appear to be very good at what they do.”

Prior to the heist, MECA refused many of the security options offered by its financial institution, First National Bank of Omaha, including a requirement that two employees sign off on every transfer.

“We had declined some of the security measures offered to us, [but if] we had those in place this wouldn’t have happened to us,” French said. “We thought that would be administratively burdensome, and I was more worried about internal stuff, not somebody hacking into our systems.”

MECA was able to reverse an unauthorized wire transfer for $147,000 that was destined for a company called Utopia Funding U.S.A. The organization was not as lucky with the remaining transfers.

The funds stolen from MECA were sent to money mules recruited through fraudulent work-at-home job offers from a mule recruitment gang that I call the “Back Office Group.” This gang is one of several money mule recruitment outfits, and they appear to be among the most active. Like many other mule gangs, they tend to re-use the same format and content for their Web sites, but change their company names whenever the major search engines start to index them with enough negative comments to make mule recruitment difficult.

The mules used in the MECA heist were recruited through a Back Office Group front company named AV Company. Mules were told they were helping the company’s overseas software engineers get paid for the work they were doing for American companies. In reality, the mules were being sent payments to transfer that were drawn on hacked accounts from victims like MECA.

More than $9,000 of MECA’s money was sent to Erik Rhoden, a resident of Fleming Island, Fla. Rhoden was recruited in June by the Back Office Group. Rhoden successfully transferred the funds to three individuals in Eastern Europe, but says he didn’t profit from the work. His story matches that of other mules recently recruited by Back Office, and indicates a devious shift in tactics which ensures that mules never receive a payment for their work.

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