US and Nigerian authorities have dismantled multiple groups running so-called business email compromise schemes. The online scams led to $1.3 billion (€1.2 billion) in worldwide losses in 2018. The US Department of Justice announced Tuesday that 281 people were arrested in a global crackdown on wire transfer scams.
Over a four-month period, “Operation reWired” was aimed at stopping so-called business email compromise (BEC) schemes, which are “designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals,” the Justice Department said.
The schemes under investigation were said to have originated with transnational criminal organizations in Nigeria, but then spread throughout the world. The operation was carried out in conjunction with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Along with 74 arrests in the United States, 167 people were arrested in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana. Other arrests were made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the UK. The operation resulted in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million (€3.35 million).
Law enforcement officials said the online scams targeting companies are designed to trick employees with access to finances into making wire transfers to fake bank accounts. Fraudsters impersonate a key employee or business partner after obtaining access to that person’s email account. The victim then transfers money to an account controlled by criminals.
Individuals are often targeted with real estate scams, business opportunity scams, or romance scams, where victims are lulled into believing they are in a legitimate relationship, and are tricked into sending or laundering money.
The Justice Department said that BEC scams led to around $1.3 billion in losses worldwide in 2018.