Federal authorities announced on Monday what they called a “significant coordinated effort” to disrupt Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens.

Operation Wire Wire, a coordinated law enforcement effort by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, was conducted over a six month period, culminating in over two weeks of intensified law enforcement activity resulting in 74 arrests in the United States and overseas, including 29 in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius and Poland.

The operation also resulted in the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.

BEC, also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud,” is a sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.

The same criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC also exploit individual victims, often real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others, by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals. This is often accomplished by impersonating a key employee or business partner after obtaining access to that person’s email account or sometimes done through romance and lottery scams.

BEC scams may involve fraudulent requests for checks rather than wire transfers; they may target sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII) or employee tax records instead of, or in addition to, money; and they may not involve an actual “compromise” of an email account or computer network.

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“Fraudsters can rob people of their life’s savings in a matter of minutes,” said Attorney General Sessions. “These are malicious and morally repugnant crimes. The Department of Justice has taken aggressive action against fraudsters in recent months, conducting the largest sweep of fraud against American seniors in history back in February.”

The BEC scam is related to other forms of fraud such as:

  • “Romance scams,” which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for an international business transaction, a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
  • “Employment opportunities scams,” which recruits prospective employees for work-from-home employment opportunities where employees are required to provide their PII as new “hires” and then are significantly overpaid by check whereby the employees wire the overpayment to the employers’ bank;
  • “Fraudulent online vehicle sales scams,” which convinces intended buyers to purchase prepaid gift cards in the amount of the agreed upon sale price and are instructed to share the prepaid card codes with the “sellers” who ignore future communications and do not deliver the goods;
  • “Rental scams” occur when renters forward a check in excess of the agreed upon deposit for the rental property to the victims and request the remainder be returned via wire or check and back out of the rental agreements and ask for a refund; and
  • “Lottery scams,” which involves persons randomly contacting email addresses advising them they have been selected as the winner of an international lottery.