The FBI recently issued a warning about a dramatic increase in what it calls the Business email compromise scam (BEC). The scam involves an email to the people who control payments at a targeted company. These people receive an email purportedly from the CEO, company attorney or even a vendor with whom the company does business requesting funds be wired to a phony company or person. At its essence, this scam is remarkably simple and relies more on simple psychology instead of sophisticated computer malware. Often the scammers will do significant research to not only learn the name of the key employees involved with payments within a company, but also will infiltrate the email accounts of company employees for a substantial period of time to learnthe protocols and language used by the company in making payments. The scammers will also gather information from the company’s website and from social media accounts of its employees all in an effort to adapt their message to seem more legitimate.
Companies both large and small have fallen for this scam, which has increased 270% in the last year and over the last couple of years has cost companies more than 2.3 billion dollars in losses. American toy manufacturer, Mattel lost three million dollars to this scam in 2015.
In order to avoid this scam, companies should be particularly wary of requests for wire transfers made by email. Wire transfers are the preferred method of payment of scammers because of the impossibility of getting the money back once it has been sent. Verification protocols for wire transfers and other bill payments should be instituted including, dual factor authentication when appropriate. Companies should also consider the amount of information that is available about them and their employees that can be used by scammers to perpetrate this crime. They also should have strict rules regarding company information included on employee social media accounts. Finally, employees should be educated about this scam in order to be on the lookout for it.