A Texas bank that’s suing a customer to recover $1.66 million spirited out of the country in a 2012 cyberheist says it now believes the missing funds are still here in the United States — in a bank account that’s been frozen by the federal government as part of an FBI cybercrime investigation.
In late June 2012, unknown hackers broke into the computer systems of Luna & Luna, LLP, a real estate escrow firm based in Garland, Texas. Unbeknownst to Luna, hackers had stolen the username and password that the company used to managed its account at Texas Brand Bank (TBB), a financial institution also based in Garland.
Between June 21, 2012 and July 2, 2012, fraudsters stole approximately $1.75 million in three separate wire transfers. Two of those transfers went to an account at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. That account was tied to the Jixi City Tianfeng Trade Limited Company in China. The third wire, in the amount of $89,651, was sent to a company in the United States, and was recovered by the bank.
Jixi is in the Heilongjiang province of China on the border with Russia, a region apparently replete with companies willing to accept huge international wire transfers without asking too many questions. A year before this cyberheist took place, the FBI issued a warning that cyberthieves operating out of the region had been the recipients of approximately $20 million in the year prior — all funds stolen from small to mid-sized businesses through a series of fraudulent wire transfers sent to Chinese economic and trade companies (PDF) on the border with Russia.
Luna became aware of the fraudulent transfers on July 2, 2012, when the bank notified the company that it was about to overdraw its accounts. The theft put Luna & Luna in a tough spot: The money the thieves stole was being held in escrow for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In essence, the crooks had robbed Uncle Sam, and this was exactly the argument that Luna used to talk its bank into replacing the missing funds as quickly as possible.
“Luna argued that unless TBB restored the funds, Luna and HUD would be severely damaged with consequences to TBB far greater than the sum of the swindled funds,” TBB wrote in its original complaint (PDF). TBB notes that it agreed to reimburse the stolen funds, but that it also reserved its right to legal claims against Luna to recover the money.
When TBB later demanded repayment, Luna refused. The bank filed suit on July 1, 2013, in state court, suing to recover the approximately $1.66 million that it could not claw back, plus interest and attorney’s fees. Continue reading →