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Biz Roundup: Better Business Bureau examines risks of email scams

CHARLOTTE – An in-depth study by the Better Business Bureau has found that business email scams are skyrocketing in frequency and have cost businesses and other organizations more than $3 billion since 2016.

Business email compromise fraud is an email phishing scam that typically targets people who pay bills to businesses, government and nonprofit organizations. It affects both big and small organizations and has resulted in more losses than any other type of fraud in the U.S., according to the FBI.

Business email fraud takes many forms. The scammer may pose as a reliable source who sends an email from a spoofed or hacked account to an accountant or chief financial officer and asks him to wire money, buy gift cards or send personal information, often for a plausible reason. If money is sent, it goes into an account controlled by the con artist.

From 2016 through May, the Internet Crime Complaint Center received 58,571 complaints about business email compromise fraud, with reported losses in the U.S. totaling $3.1 billion. The Better Business Bureau report found that the average loss involving wire transfers is $35,000, while the average loss involving gift cards is $1,000 to $2,000.

According to BBB’s report, the majority of people charged with such fraud in the U.S. over the past three years are of Nigerian origin. The report says 90% of business email compromise groups operate out of Nigeria, with other Nigerian fraud groups operating in the U.S., Canada and other countries.

On Sept. 10, a worldwide law enforcement effort yielded 74 arrests for email fraud in the U.S., 167 in Nigeria and 40 in other countries, with nearly $3.7 million in assets seized. The U.S. Justice Department has prosecuted at least 22 cases in the past three years, many as part of a collective enforcement effort dubbed Operation Wire Wire, named for email fraud’s common name among Nigerian fraudsters.

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