FBI arrests hundreds globally in BEC scam crackdown

The FBI has announced the arrests of 281 individuals as part of an investigation into business money wire scams.

Dubbed Operation reWired, the multi-agency investigation aimed to “disrupt and dismantle” international business email compromise (BEC) schemes and stretched across a number of months.

The arrests reach globally – in co-ordination with respective law enforcement – in nations including Nigeria, Turkey, Ghana, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia and the United Kingdom on top of the 74 announced by officials in the US.

In total the operation resulted in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million and the disruption and recovery of approximately $118 million in fraudulent wire transfers.

“The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray

“Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after you, no matter where you are.”

BEC scams focuses on employees with access to company finances with the aim of duping them into making wire transfers to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners.

Criminals can also exploit individuals susceptible to scams, such as real estate purchasers or the elderly, by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.

The operation follows last year’s Operation WireWire, a similar effort that led to total 74 arrests and the seizure of $2.4 million. 

An FBI case that was part of last year’s operation illustrates how the BEC scheme works: Beginning in 2015, two men working remotely from the United Kingdom and Nigeria sent emails to an executive at a Connecticut-based company appearing to be from the company’s CEO, who was also located overseas. 

The purported CEO was requesting a wire transfer of funds. The email looked legitimate, so the company’s controller sent multiple wire transfers totaling more than $500,000. But as it turns out, the CEO’s email account had been spoofed – and the money went straight into accounts managed by the criminals.

“If you saw the email, it would look very legitimate,” commented special agent Jennifer Boyer, who worked the case out of the FBI’s New Haven Field Office.

“Take a moment to consider that maybe it’s not your boss and pick up the phone and verify. It’s that second-factor authentication that people really need to implement, and so many people don’t.”