Authorities in the US say that email scams are the costliest internet crimes out there, despite the lack of attention they get compared to ransomware attacks and other cybercrimes. The most serious of these is business email compromise or BEC.
BEC is a form of cybercrime where a scammer tricks a company or corporation into sending them money through an email scam. A new report from the FBI indicates that US businesses lost as much as $2.4 billion in BEC scams. That’s far more than the millions of dollars lost in high-profile ransomware attacks.
What do these crimes entail, and how can businesses protect themselves?
The first thing that BEC scammers do is compromise a business email account. For instance, a criminal might employ phishing techniques to trick a company manager into giving up their email login. Armed with this information, a scammer can log in and start sending emails as though they were a high-ranking manager in a company.
Then, the criminal can email the payroll department and ask them to update the bank account to which certain direct deposits should be sent. If the scammer finds a program that will take time for the company to notice is being misdirected, they can end up with millions of dollars in their accounts before anyone realizes what’s happening.
These scams are frustrating for businesses because they offer little recourse. The criminals can often cover their tracks by saying the company willingly sent them the money. No one forced the business to send funds to the criminals’ bank accounts, so why should they face any charges?
By the time the authorities get involved, the scammers can fabricate a story about how the company is now trying to back out of agreed-upon payments by threatening legal action.
What’s more, law enforcement often won’t take BEC cases unless several millions of dollars have been stolen. Victims say this is evidence of just how widespread this problem is. The bigger a company is, the more likely it is to become the target of an email scam.
However, law enforcement wants criminals to know that their day will come. “Our message to criminals involved in these types of BEC schemes will remain clear: The FBI’s memory and reach is long and wide-ranging, we will relentlessly pursue you no matter where you may be located,” says FBI executive assistant director Brian Turner.