Romance scams surge during the Valentine’s season when longing and loneliness peak among those without partners. There would seem little connection between victims of these scams and the increase in business email compromises (BEC) among corporate employees – but there is!
Many romance scams originate in Nigeria. “Foreign citizens perpetrate many BEC scams. Those individuals are often members of transnational criminal organizations, which originated in Nigeria but have spread throughout the world,” the DOJ states.
Around 2016, these same scammers expanded their criminal activities to include BEC attacks, also called “cyber-enabled financial fraud”. But BEC attacks presented the scammers with an interesting dilemma, namely how to get the funds obtained via the email breaks out of the country.
This is when the connection between romance scams and BEC attacks emerged. Scammers turned their romance victims into “money mules” convincing them to perform a number of illegal acts on their behalf including “receiving and shipping merchandise, depositing and forwarding counterfeit checks, and transferring the proceeds of the conspiracy via wire, U.S. mail, ocean freight and express package delivery services.”
The escalation of these activities has not gone unnoticed by the U.S. Justice Department and other U.S. agencies. In two recently announced enforcement actions – Operation Wire Wire (not a typo) and Operation Keyboard Warrior – they have succeeded in getting accused criminals extradited to the United States for prosecution.
Despite the FBI’s commitment to dismantle the criminal enterprises and DOJ’s intent to “pursue and prosecute the perpetrators regardless of where they are located”, email fraud attacks are on the rise. Prudence dictates vigorous employee education programs addressing BEC.