Think Before You Click: Avoiding Email Scams

Think twice before you open that unrecognizable email because it may cost you. Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) updated its data on business email compromise (BEC) scams, which have increased steadily around the globe in less than two years.

In a public service announcement on July 12, the FBI stated the scams are “targeting small, medium and large business and personal transactions” that involve wire transfer payments or requests for employees’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Wage and Tax Statement (W-2) forms. The number of reported BEC scam-related losses increased by 136% between December 2016 and May 2018 in the U.S. and 150 other countries. Total funds lost have exceeded $12 billion—nearly $3 billion of which was lost by more than 41,000 people in the U.S. in less than five years.

The scams frequently target the real estate sector, affecting transactions by title companies, law firms, real estate agents, buyers and sellers. The number of victims in the sector reportedly increased more than 1100% between 2015 and 2017, while losses rose nearly 2200%.

“Victims most often report a spoofed email being sent or received on behalf of one of these real estate transaction participants with instructions directing the recipient to change the payment type and/or payment location to a fraudulent account,” the release noted. “The funds are usually directed to a fraudulent domestic account, which quickly disperses through cash or check withdrawals.”

As the saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense.” In this case, the FBI asks businesses to verify the requested changes in payment type and/or location. Victims can also attempt to stop fraudulent transfers after they have occurred by requesting a recall on the funds from their financial institution as well as reporting the incident to their local FBI office.

-Andrew Michaels, editorial associate

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