The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has joined forces with Metro-Atlanta District Attorneys, the Office of the Attorney General, the FBI Atlanta Field Office, U.S. Secret Service, state, and local law enforcement to combat the criminal movement of cyber fraud proceeds through banks in the Atlanta area by employing Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud schemes.
“We are grateful for the participation and commitment of our metro District Attorneys to come together in a coordinated effort to address this criminal enterprise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine. “The money mules that facilitate the transfer of fraud proceeds make these cyber fraud crimes lucrative. Interrupting that flow of money is an important part of disrupting the criminal enterprise. Working together creates a strong network of prosecutors and law enforcement, across counties, who are addressing the problem through criminal prosecution and community outreach. It is this kind of intelligence and resource sharing that make our law enforcement efforts more effective and our businesses and citizens safer.”
The FBI says BEC crimes account for 40 percent of all cybercrime losses. BEC fraud schemes exploit the fact that many people rely on email to conduct business—both personal and professional. In a BEC scam, criminals send an email message that appears to come from a known source making a legitimate request, as in the examples below:
- A vendor a company regularly uses sends an invoice with an updated bank account number.
- A company CEO asks their assistant to purchase dozens of gift cards to send out as employee rewards, and then asks for the serial numbers so they can email them out right away.
- A homebuyer receives a message from their title company with instructions on how to wire the down payment.
In scams like these, the unsuspecting victim sends thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of dollars to the criminal.
Over the last five years, BEC crimes have evolved into the predominant cyber threat businesses face.
In 2020, the FBI IC3 – the primary law enforcement arm to combat BEC crimes – reported 1,303 incidents with $462,967,963.72 in losses and $380,211,432.04 reported frozen by financial partners (yielding a 79 percent success rate of funds frozen).
From global reporting, comprised of multiple law enforcement and financial partners, between 2016 and 2019, businesses have lost at least $26 billion as a result of BEC scams. Based on the most recent FBI IC3 report, losses from BEC attacks grew another 6 percent in 2020—accounting for 45 percent of all cybercrime losses over the course of the year.
Surprisingly, a quarter of all BEC attackers had a home base in the United States. Nearly half of U.S.-based BEC actors were located in five states with clusters of actors around a handful of metro areas, including the metro-Atlanta area.
By making a coordinated and concerted effort to focus on suspects moving fraud proceeds in the metro-Atlanta area, the Cyber Fraud Task Force hopes to disrupt the financial structure that makes BEC fraud schemes so lucrative for criminals. Additionally, the task force aims to partner with community leaders and organizers to educate the public about avoiding these scams.
The Cyber Fraud Task Force is comprised of members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, the Office of the Georgia Attorney General, FBI Atlanta, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service Atlanta Field Office, the Atlanta Police Department, the Sandy Springs Police Department, the Smyrna Police Department, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office, and the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.