Email fraud also known as business email compromise (BEC) is the intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual through email. Almost as soon as email became widely used, it began to be used as a means to defraud people. Email fraud can take the form of a "con game" or scam. Investigating email fraud reaches to all aspect of cyber crime from recovery of funds transferred to a fraudsters bank account to a forensic examination to determine how fraudsters hacked into email accounts.
Email fraud, scams, phishing attacks happens in most cases when cyber criminals find ways to hack into the email servers or accounts of small and medium companies, often targeting those with business in Asia countries. Cyber criminals gain access to email accounts and search through email accounts looking for sensitive information such as outstanding, unpaid invoices or data relating to financial transactions and business between supplier, vendor and clients. When cyber criminals identify a sale or a due invoice, the fraudsters then send various fictitious emails from the hacked email account or an email address replicated to the original purporting to be in charge of the sale or due invoice to be paid, the fraudster is then asking for transfers of funds into a nominated bank account, usually giving an excuse that there is a problem at the bank and an alternative account needs to be used. It is common that the nominated account is in the same name as the company name or with a very slight change such as an extra letter. It is common the bank account to be in the same city as the victim or client.
Email fraud provides a lucrative business for cybercriminals and internet con artists. Cyber adversaries use emails to trick victims into disclosing highly sensitive data. Most of the email frauds are financially motivated, which is the reason behind their high rate of prevalence. In a report provided by the FBI, email frauds constituted the most extensive forms of internet crime, where they caused losses amounting to US$1.4 billion in 2017. The same report identified business email compromise and fake investment email scams as the topmost techniques used to execute email fraud attacks.
Types of Email Fraud
- CEO fraud/Business Email Compromise
CEO email frauds purpose to compromise the structural organization in a business. They are frauds where cybercriminals gain access to email accounts of high-ranking executives using tactics such as spear phishing. Actors with unauthorized access to such accounts can pose as the legitimate owners and instruct other employees to carry out various operations such as transfer of vast sums of money to overseas accounts. CEO frauds are common due to their high success rates. Executives typically instruct their subordinates through emails, and CEO fraud provides the best opportunities for conducting attacks without detection.
- Online Banking Scams
The internet has enabled organizations such as banks to provide services to customers through the internet. This has led to increased online banking scams commonly executed using phishing attacks delivered via emails. In such a fraud, an unsuspicious victim receives an email claiming that his bank has some problems which can be resolved through login into their online accounts. However, upon clicking the provided link, which can contain the correct URL address, a user is redirected to another website identical to the official online banking platform. The scammers can obtain all credential entered in the dummy website and use them to transfer money from the victim’s account.
- Survey Scams
Survey scams are where a cybercriminal emails a victim concerning an online survey for statistical purposes or to win a prize. In such a case, an internet con artiste first studies the target's interests. This is often accomplished through the social media profiles belonging to the victims and following their social activities. The email message sent to the victim may contain information appealing to their interests and compelling reasons for participating in the surveys. Clicking on the survey links may automatically install malicious scripts in the victim's computers. Among other things, this can allow cybercriminals to remotely control the computer or acquire highly sensitive information like usernames and passwords to critical accounts. The aftermath is the information being used maliciously or cybercriminals using it to commit all types of cybercrime.
- Employment Scams
Online con artists rely on the importance of the fraudulent email's subject to commit frauds and scams. As such, they widely use fake employment opportunities to lure victims into divulging personal details such as their legal names, social security numbers, and bank account details. The fraudulent emails may seem to originate from a reputable organization to drown any suspicions. Upon replying to the email to express interest at the unexpected job opportunity, the victims are asked to provide the information so they can “start work immediately”. However, with their hands on such valuable data, the scammers can use it to steal the victim’s identity, empty their bank accounts, or use it in fake money orders requesting payments for various services.
- Requests for Assistance
Internet scammers may prey on the victims’ kindness to commits email frauds attacks. They may use different strategies, including monetary rewards, for their plans to work. For instance, an email may state that the sender has a wealthy relative who for some reason, cannot access their monies and is in dire need of financial help. The scammer might ask for monetary assistance accompanied by the victims' bank details for "refund and reward" purposes. In other instances, the fraudsters may claim they need a bank account for transferring their money or assets held in another country, promising a good reward. The scanners nevertheless use the provided information to access and empty the victims’ bank accounts. These types of email frauds are common since most victims are drawn by the huge rewards on offer.
- Bogus sales Offers
Cybercriminals may capitalize on the need of individuals to acquire new products that are yet to be released to the market. This is by sending enticing e-commerce emails of new products such as smartphones or videogames retailing at low prices. Attracted to the low prices, and the fact that the products are yet to be released, some individuals may pay for the purchases. Of course, the purchased products are never delivered, and the victims end up waiting for days on end. Also, such types of email frauds may purpose to obtain the victim’s sensitive information such as credit card numbers. The cybercriminals may use the information to make their own illegal purchases.
- Billing Problems
These are email frauds that mostly target online shoppers. Victims might receive emails that claim the products they purchased may not be delivered due to errors in billing address. The emails contain links to spoofed pages where attackers can access credit card information once the target fall in their traps. Attackers may use different techniques to increase their rates of success.
The Common Trends in Email Fraud Cases:
Sale contract scam: fraudsters know from stolen emails about transactions between company A (the seller) and company B (the buyer). The fraudsters, pretending to be company A, send fictitious emails to company B, claiming that company A’s bank account has changed and requesting transfer of funds to the new bank account which is usually in the same region as the client, vendor or supplier.
CEO scam: pretending to be senior management officers of victim companies, fraudsters send fictitious emails to staff in the finance department, seeking the transfer of funds to overseas business partners or to make business investments on an urgent basis. The finance department staff are requested to transfer funds to a bank account.
The misspelt domain name.
This is where the cyber attacker will own the misspelt domain name, which closely resembles the victim or clients domain, but is usually off by one character.
From: "CEO Name" <email@example.com>
In this case, anti-spoofing will not identify these messages. Instead, regular expressions can be applied to the From: line in order to identify the misspellings. Below are two regular expressions for a domain called example.com. These expressions are useful not just for these scams, but phishing in general. For efficiency, the regexes assume the first character is never changed, which is a fairly safe assumption because otherwise the domain would not look similar enough. Simply copy the pattern and apply to your own domain(s).
Character Substitution Regex
This expression identifies a domain where one of the letters in the domain has been replaced. It works by checking each letter for substitution (for instance [^m] means "any letter but m").
Are you effected by Business Email Compromise ?
If you encounter or believe that you have been the victim of online or mobile fraud (i.e. phishing, BEC etc.), please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Be sure to attach any supporting documentation such as copies of suspicious emails, text messages and questionable links/URLs. Digitpol's global offices will work with local authorities to freeze accounts and assist with the recovery of funds.
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