The FBI on Monday announced the arrest of 74 people across three continents for hijacking bank transfers using email fraud.
The “cyber-enabled financial fraud” allegedly carried out by those apprehended could involve social engineering and computer intrusions to dupe company executives into wiring money, the FBI said. A criminal could use an executive’s compromised email to facilitate a transfer or request W-2 information from within the organization, for example.
The scam is essentially a more sophisticated version of the “Nigerian prince” emails that pester the average email user for money. Twenty-nine of the suspects were arrested in Nigeria, 42 in the United States, and the rest in Canada, Mauritius, and Poland.
Several of the cases involved global criminal groups that defrauded companies big and small, according to the FBI. The departments of Homeland Security and Treasury, along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, were also in on “Operation WireWire” to take down the alleged fraudsters.
Gloria Okolie and Paul Aisosa, Nigerian nationals living in Dallas, were among those charged in the bust. An indictment in the Southern District of Georgia alleges the pair sent a real-estate attorney a phony email asking for $246,000 to be wired to Okolie’s account. The attorney lost $130,000 because the bank was only able to freeze $116,000 of that transfer request, according to a Justice Department announcement.
Authorities seized about $2.4 million and recovered about $14 million in fraudulent transfers, according to the bureau.
“Although the explosive expansion of the cyber domain has forced us to develop innovative ways of conducting these types of investigations, our proven model remains the same,” U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles said in a statement. For his part, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau would keep working with its international partners to crack down on the fraud schemes.
Online fraud is as old as the internet, and U.S. authorities devote significant resources each year to stemming its growth. They say they’re making progress – with Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network touting its recovery of $350 million stolen from U.S. citizens since 2014.