Posts Tagged: ceo fraud


7
Apr 16

FBI: $2.3 Billion Lost to CEO Email Scams

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) this week warned about a “dramatic” increase in so-called “CEO fraud,” e-mail scams in which the attacker spoofs a message from the boss and tricks someone at the organization into wiring funds to the fraudsters. The FBI estimates these scams have cost organizations more than $2.3 billion in losses over the past three years.

In an alert posted to its site, the FBI said that since January 2015, the agency has seen a 270 percent increase in identified victims and exposed losses from CEO scams. The alert noted that law enforcement globally has received complaints from victims in every U.S. state, and in at least 79 countries.

A typical CEO fraud attack. Image: Phishme

A typical CEO fraud attack. Image: Phishme

CEO fraud usually begins with the thieves either phishing an executive and gaining access to that individual’s inbox, or emailing employees from a look-alike domain name that is one or two letters off from the target company’s true domain name. For example, if the target company’s domain was “example.com” the thieves might register “examp1e.com” (substituting the letter “L” for the numeral 1) or “example.co,” and send messages from that domain.

Unlike traditional phishing scams, spoofed emails used in CEO fraud schemes rarely set off spam traps because these are targeted phishing scams that are not mass e-mailed. Also, the crooks behind them take the time to understand the target organization’s relationships, activities, interests and travel and/or purchasing plans.

They do this by scraping employee email addresses and other information from the target’s Web site to help make the missives more convincing. In the case where executives or employees have their inboxes compromised by the thieves, the crooks will scour the victim’s email correspondence for certain words that might reveal whether the company routinely deals with wire transfers — searching for messages with key words like “invoice,” “deposit” and “president.”

On the surface, business email compromise scams may seem unsophisticated relative to moneymaking schemes that involve complex malicious software, such as Dyre and ZeuS. But in many ways, CEO fraud is more versatile and adept at sidestepping basic security strategies used by banks and their customers to minimize risks associated with account takeovers. In traditional phishing scams, the attackers interact with the victim’s bank directly, but in the CEO scam the crooks trick the victim into doing that for them.

The FBI estimates that organizations victimized by CEO fraud attacks lose on average between $25,000 and $75,000. But some CEO fraud incidents over the past year have cost victim companies millions — if not tens of millions — of dollars.  Continue reading →


18
Jan 16

Firm Sues Cyber Insurer Over $480K Loss

A Texas manufacturing firm is suing its cyber insurance provider for refusing to cover a $480,000 loss following an email scam that impersonated the firm’s chief executive.

athookAt issue is a cyber insurance policy issued to Houston-based Ameriforge Group Inc. (doing business as “AFGlobal Corp.“) by Federal Insurance Co., a division of insurance giant Chubb Group. AFGlobal maintains that the policy it held provided coverage for both computer fraud and funds transfer fraud, but that the insurer nevertheless denied a claim filed in May 2014 after scammers impersonating AFGlobal’s CEO convinced the company’s accountant to wire $480,000 to a bank in China.

According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Harris County, Texas, the policy covered up to $3 million, with a $100,000 deductible. The documents indicate that from May 21, 2014 to May 27, 2014, AFGlobal’s director of accounting received a series of emails from someone claiming to be Gean Stalcup, the CEO of AFGlobal.

“Glen, I have assigned you to manage file T521,” the phony message to the accounting director Glen Wurm allegedly read. “This is a strictly confidential financial operation, to which takes priority over other tasks. Have you already been contacted by Steven Shapiro (attorney from KPMG)? This is very sensitive, so please only communicate with me through this email, in order for us not to infringe SEC regulations. Please do no speak with anyone by email or phone regarding this. Regards, Gean Stalcup.”

Roughly 30 minutes later, Mr. Wurm said he was contacted via phone and email by Mr. Shapiro stating that due diligence fees associated with the China acquisition in the amount of $480,000 were needed. AFGlobal claims a Mr. Shapiro followed up via email with wiring instructions.

After wiring the funds as requested — sending the funds to an account at the Agricultural Bank of China — Mr. Wurm said he received no further correspondence from the imposter until May 27, 2014, when the imposter acknowledged receipt of the $480,000 and asked Wurm to wire an additional $18 million. Wurm said he became suspicious after that request, and alerted the officers of the company to his suspicions.

According to the plaintiff, “the imposter seemed to know the normal procedures of the company and also that Gean Stalcup had a long-standing, very personal and familiar relationship with Mr. Wurm — sufficient enough that Mr. Wurm would not question a request from the CEO.”

The company said it attempted to recover the $480,000 wire from its bank, but that the money was already gone by the 27th, with the imposters zeroing out and closing the recipient account shortly after the transfer was completed on May 21.

In a letter sent by Chubb to the plaintiff, the insurance firm said it was denying the claim because the scam, known alternatively as “business email compromise” (BEC) and CEO fraud, did not involve the forgery of a financial instrument as required by the policy. Continue reading →


27
Aug 15

FBI: $1.2B Lost to Business Email Scams

The FBI today warned about a significant spike in victims and dollar losses stemming from an increasingly common scam in which crooks spoof communications from executives at the victim firm in a bid to initiate unauthorized international wire transfers. According to the FBI, thieves stole nearly $750 million in such scams from more than 7,000 victim companies in the U.S. between October 2013 and August 2015.

athook

In January 2015, the FBI released stats showing that between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 1, 2014, some 1,198 companies lost a total of $179 million in so-called business e-mail compromise (BEC) scams, also known as “CEO fraud.” The latest figures show a marked 270 percent increase in identified victims and exposed losses. Taking into account international victims, the losses from BEC scams total more than $1.2 billion, the FBI said.

“The scam has been reported in all 50 states and in 79 countries,” the FBI’s alert notes. “Fraudulent transfers have been reported going to 72 countries; however, the majority of the transfers are going to Asian banks located within China and Hong Kong.”

CEO fraud usually begins with the thieves either phishing an executive and gaining access to that individual’s inbox, or emailing employees from a look-alike domain name that is one or two letters off from the target company’s true domain name. For example, if the target company’s domain was “example.com” the thieves might register “examp1e.com” (substituting the letter “L” for the numeral 1) or “example.co,” and send messages from that domain.

Unlike traditional phishing scams, spoofed emails used in CEO fraud schemes are unlikely to set off spam traps, because these are targeted phishing scams that are not mass e-mailed. Also, the crooks behind them take the time to understand the target organization’s relationships, activities, interests and travel and/or purchasing plans.

They do this by scraping employee email addresses and other information from the target’s Web site to help make the missives more convincing. In the case where executives or employees have their inboxes compromised by the thieves, the crooks will scour the victim’s email correspondence for certain words that might reveal whether the company routinely deals with wire transfers — searching for messages with key words like “invoice,” “deposit” and “president.”

On the surface, business email compromise scams may seem unsophisticated relative to moneymaking schemes that involve complex malicious software, such as Dyre and ZeuS. But in many ways, the BEC attack is more versatile and adept at sidestepping basic security strategies used by banks and their customers to minimize risks associated with account takeovers. In traditional phishing scams, the attackers interact with the victim’s bank directly, but in the BEC scam the crooks trick the victim into doing that for them. Continue reading →


7
Aug 15

Tech Firm Ubiquiti Suffers $46M Cyberheist

Networking firm Ubiquiti Networks Inc. disclosed this week that cyber thieves recently stole $46.7 million using an increasingly common scam in which crooks spoof communications from executives at the victim firm in a bid to initiate unauthorized international wire transfers.

athookUbiquiti, a San Jose based maker of networking technology for service providers and enterprises, disclosed the attack in a quarterly financial report filed this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The company said it discovered the fraud on June 5, 2015, and that the incident involved employee impersonation and fraudulent requests from an outside entity targeting the company’s finance department.

“This fraud resulted in transfers of funds aggregating $46.7 million held by a Company subsidiary incorporated in Hong Kong to other overseas accounts held by third parties,” Ubiquiti wrote. “As soon as the Company became aware of this fraudulent activity it initiated contact with its Hong Kong subsidiary’s bank and promptly initiated legal proceedings in various foreign jurisdictions. As a result of these efforts, the Company has recovered $8.1 million of the amounts transferred.”

Known variously as “CEO fraud,” and the “business email compromise,” the swindle that hit Ubiquiti is a sophisticated and increasingly common one targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.  In January 2015, the FBI warned that cyber thieves stole nearly $215 million from businesses in the previous 14 months through such scams, which start when crooks spoof or hijack the email accounts of business executives or employees.

In February, con artists made off with $17.2 million from one of Omaha, Nebraska’s oldest companies —  The Scoular Co., an employee-owned commodities trader. According to Omaha.com, an executive with the 800-employee company wired the money in installments last summer to a bank in China after receiving emails ordering him to do so.

In March 2015, I posted the story Spoofing the Boss Turns Thieves a Tidy Profit, which recounted the nightmarish experience of an Ohio manufacturing firm that came within a whisker of losing $315,000 after an employee received an email she thought was from her boss asking her to wire the money to China to pay for some raw materials.

Ubiquiti didn’t disclose precisely how it was scammed, but CEO fraud usually begins with the thieves either phishing an executive and gaining access to that individual’s inbox, or emailing employees from a look-alike domain name that is one or two letters off from the target company’s true domain name. For example, if the target company’s domain was “example.com” the thieves might register “examp1e.com” (substituting the letter “L” for the numeral 1) or “example.co,” and send messages from that domain.

In these cases, the fraudsters will forge the sender’s email address displayed to the recipient, so that the email appears to be coming from example.com. In all cases, however, the “reply-to” address is the spoofed domain (e.g. examp1e.com), ensuring that any replies are sent to the fraudster.

In the case of the above-mentioned Ohio manufacturing firm that nearly lost $315,000, that company determined that the fraudsters had just hours before the attack registered the phony domain and associated email account with Vistaprint, which offers a free one-month trial for companies looking to quickly set up a Web site.

Ubiquiti said in addition to the $8.1 million it already recovered, some $6.8 million of the amounts transferred are currently subject to legal injunction and reasonably expected to be recovered. It added that an internal investigation completed last month uncovered no evidence that its systems were penetrated or that any corporate information, including our financial and account information, was accessed. Likewise, the investigation reported no evidence of employee criminal involvement in the fraud.

“The Company is continuing to pursue the recovery of the remaining $31.8 million and is cooperating with U.S. federal and numerous overseas law enforcement authorities who are actively pursuing a multi-agency criminal investigation,” the 10-K filing reads. “The Company may be limited in what information it can disclose due to the ongoing investigation. The Company currently believes this is an isolated event and does not believe its technology systems have been compromised or that Company data has been exposed.”

The FBI’s advisory on these scams urges businesses to adopt two-step or two-factor authentication for email, where available, and/or to establish other communication channels — such as telephone calls — to verify significant transactions. Businesses are also advised to exercise restraint when publishing information about employee activities on their Web sites or through social media, as attackers perpetrating these schemes often will try to discover information about when executives at the targeted organization will be traveling or otherwise out of the office.

Ubiquiti noted that as a result of its investigation, the company and its audit committee and advisors concluded that its internal control over financial reporting were ineffective due to one or more material weaknesses, though it didn’t disclose what measures it took to close those security gaps.

“The Company has implemented enhanced internal controls over financial reporting since June 5, 2015 and is in the process of implementing additional procedures and controls pursuant to recommendations from the investigation,” it said.

There are probably some scenarios in which legitimate emails between two parties carry different display and “reply-to” addresses. But if the message also involves a “reply-to” domain that has virtually no reputation (it was registered within hours or days of the message being sent), the chances that the email is fraudulent go up dramatically.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) or man-in-the-email (MITE) scams are adaptive and surprisingly complicated.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) or man-in-the-email (MITE) scams are adaptive and surprisingly complex.

Continue reading →


10
Mar 15

Spoofing the Boss Turns Thieves a Tidy Profit

Judy came within a whisker of losing $315,000 in cash belonging to her employer, a mid-sized manufacturing company in northeast Ohio. Judy’s boss had emailed her, asking her to wire the money to China to pay for some raw materials. The boss, who was traveling abroad at the time, had requested such transfers before — at even higher amounts to manufacturers in China and elsewhere — so the request didn’t seem unusual or suspicious.

athookUntil it did. After Judy sent the wire instructions on to the finance department, something about the email stuck in her head: The message was far more formal-sounding than the tone of voice her boss normally used to express himself via email.

By the time she went back to review the missive and found she’d been scammed by an imposter, it was too late — the employee in charge of initiating wires at her company had already sent it on to the bank. Luckily, the bank hadn’t yet processed the wire, and they were able to claw back the funds.

“Judy” is a pseudonym; she asked to remain anonymous so as not to further embarrass herself or her employer. But for every close call like Judy’s there are many more small businesses each week that fall for these scams and lose millions in the process.

Known variously as “CEO fraud,” and the “business email compromise,” this swindle is a sophisticated and increasingly common one targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.  In January 2015, the FBI warned that cyber thieves stole nearly $215 million from businesses in the previous 14 months through such scams, which start when crooks spoof or hijack the email accounts of business executives or employees.

In February, con artists made off with a whopping $17.2 million from one of Omaha, Nebraska’s oldest companies —  The Scoular Co., an employee-owned commodities trader. According to Omaha.com, an executive with the 800-employee company wired the money in installments last summer to a bank in China after receiving emails ordering him to do so.

The scam email that nearly cost Judy her job appeared to have come from her company’s chief financial officer, who she said is not usually in the office. The message was made to appear as though it was a conversation between the CFO and the CEO, in which the CEO told the CFO that money needed to be wired to China.

“$315,000 is definitely a high amount, but I did a transaction for $1.4 million before, and I wire money to China for goods that we buy from there,” she said. “But truly, the email did bother me. It didn’t feel quite right when it came in, but at no point did I think, ‘this is someone imitating the boss.'”

After sending a co-worker in finance instructions to execute the wire transfer, Judy sent a note to the CFO asking if she should also notify the CEO that the wire had been sent. When the response came back in wording she couldn’t imagine the CFO putting in writing, she studied the forwarded email more closely. Sure enough, Judy discovered the message had been sent from a domain name that was one look-alike letter different from her employer’s true domain name. Continue reading →


28
Jan 15

FBI: Businesses Lost $215M to Email Scams

It’s time once again to update my Value of a Hacked Email Account graphic: According to a recent alert from the FBI, cyber thieves stole nearly $215 million from businesses in the last 14 months using a scam that starts when business executives or employees have their email accounts hijacked.

Federal investigators say the so-called “business email compromise” (BEC) swindle is a sophisticated and increasingly common scam targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.

According to new data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) — a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI — the victims of BEC scams range from small to large businesses that may purchase or supply a variety of goods, such as textiles, furniture, food, and pharmaceuticals.

Image: IC3

Image: IC3

One variation on the BEC scam, also known as “CEO fraud,” starts with the email account compromise for high-level business executives (CFO, CTO, etc). Posing as the executive, the fraudster sends a request for a wire transfer from the compromised account to a second employee within the company who is normally responsible for processing these requests.

“The requests for wire transfers are well-worded, specific to the business being victimized, and do not raise suspicions to the legitimacy of the request,” the agency warned. “In some instances a request for a wire transfer from the compromised account is sent directly to the financial institution with instructions to urgently send funds to bank ‘X’ for reason ‘Y.'”

The IC3 notes that the fraudsters perpetrating these scams do their homework before targeting a business and its employees, monitoring and studying their selected victims prior to initiating the fraud. Continue reading →