Business Email Compromise
This kind of fraud depends on use of a real email address that is deceptively similar to one that would be used
by the target company or its legitimate suppliers to trigger a kind of “fictitious payee” scam. The target company is
tricked into sending funds by wire transfer to a bank account which is under the fraudsters’ control. This bank account
is often in Hong Kong, UK, China and the timeframe for intercepting and recovering funds that have been stolen in this way is very short.
Three Basic Elements to the scam
1. Fraudsters secure an internet domain name that is visually very similar to the domain name of the target company or of
the target’s real suppliers. For instance, if the target company is named AABBCC, Ltd. and its domain is www.AABBCC.com, the
fraudsters will secure registration of www.AAABBCC.com.
2.Scammers will research publicly available information about the target company looking for the names of senior financial officers
and employees, especially chief financial officers and comptrollers.
3. Fraudsters will use what hackers call “social engineering” to secure the name and legitimate email address of a target
company employee who is responsible for making large wire transfers.
With that last piece of information, the fraudsters have two vital parts of the scam: the name and email address
of a person who is authorized to initiate wire-transfers, and the format of legitimate company email addresses. If the name
of the person with wire transfer authority is Mr. Bhatia and his email address in our example is firstname.lastname@example.org, and they
learn from the company’s website that the CFO’s name is Mr. Ram Raghav, they will know that the CFO’s legitimate email address
will very likely be Rraghav@aabbcc.com. Putting all these pieces together can take experienced fraudsters just a few hours of work.
The next step in the scam is sending an email that purports to be from the company’s CFO to the person authorized to send
wire transfer instructions, but using the deceptive domain name. In this example, the “From” line of the email will appear as
“From: Ram Raghav .” Notice the extra ‘a’ in this email address? Unless you were forewarned, you’d be very
likely not to notice it. Instead, when Mr. Bhatia receives an email from email@example.com telling him to immediately send a wire
transfer to a particular bank account (accompanied by a plausible explanation for why the funds should be transferred, often with
legitimate-looking invoices attached), he may well do it.
A variation on this pattern is the use of a domain name deceptively similar to one of the target company’s regular suppliers.
In this kind of case, the fraudsters need to know the identity of who is selling to the target company, something that may require
some inside information. Instead of impersonating a company officer with authority to order wire transfers, the fraudsters impersonate
the company’s supplier. Although the information required to put this scheme in play is harder to come by, once it is obtained,
the fraudsters have a better chance of success, since the funds only need to be redirected to a bank account under the fraudsters
control, but all other information fits the target company’s usual course of paying invoices submitted by a known supplier.
Information about a supplier can be gained by searching websites of companies likely to be selling to the target company,
which may list the supplier’s large customers, or through social engineering, e.g. by getting to know someone in the supplier’s
sales force and waiting for the identity of the supplier’s large customers to be disclosed.
1. Avoid free web-based e-mail accounts: Establish a company domain name and use it to establish company e-mail accounts in lieu of free, web-based accounts.
2. Be careful what is posted to social media and company websites, especially job duties/descriptions, hierarchal information, and out of office details.
3. Be suspicious of requests for secrecy or pressure to take action quickly.
4. Consider additional IT and financial security procedures, including the implementation of a 2-step verification process. For example -
o Out of Band Communication: Establish other communication channels, such as telephone calls, to verify significant transactions. Arrange this second-factor authentication early in the relationship and outside the e-mail environment to avoid interception by a hacker.
o Digital Signatures: Both entities on each side of a transaction should utilize digital signatures. This will not work with web-based e-mail accounts. Additionally, some countries ban or limit the use of encryption.
o Delete Spam: Immediately report and delete unsolicited e-mail (spam) from unknown parties. DO NOT open spam e-mail, click on links in the e-mail, or open attachments. These often contain malware that will give subjects access to your computer system.
o Forward vs. Reply: Do not use the “Reply” option to respond to any business e-mails. Instead, use the “Forward” option and either type in the correct e-mail address or select it from the e-mail address book to ensure the intended recipient’s correct e-mail address is used.
5. Consider implementing Two Factor Authentication (TFA) for corporate e-mail accounts. TFA mitigates the threat of a subject gaining access to an employee’s e-mail account through a compromised password by requiring two pieces of information to login: something you know (a password) and something you have (such as a dynamic PIN or code).
6. Significant Changes: Beware of sudden changes in business practices. For example, if a current business contact suddenly asks to be contacted via their personal e-mail address when all previous official correspondence has been through company e-mail, the request could be fraudulent. Always verify via other channels that you are still communicating with your legitimate business partner.
7. Create intrusion detection system rules that flag e-mails with extensions that are similar to company e-mail. For example, legitimate e-mail of abc_company.com would flag fraudulent e-mail of abc-company.com.
8. Register all company domains that are slightly different than the actual company domain.
9. Verify changes in vendor payment location by adding additional two-factor authentication such as having a secondary sign-off by company personnel.
10. Confirm requests for transfers of funds. When using phone verification as part of the two-factor authentication, use previously known numbers, not the numbers provided in the e-mail request.
11. Know the habits of your customers, including the details of, reasons behind, and amount of payments.
12. Carefully scrutinize all e-mail requests for transfers of funds to determine if the requests are out of the ordinary.