In this week's final episode we're going to investigate a scam email that very nearly cost one of our customers more than $66,0000.
If you don't know what CEO fraud is then this instalment is for you
CEO email fraud scams occur when the scammer pretends to be the CEO or some other company executive and convinces some other company employee to conduct a money transfer. While there are a few different variations on the theme they all work pretty much the same way.
The most successful of these scams works when the CEO's real email account is compromised and the messages are sent from his or her actual email address. The less successful attempts involve the scammer doing things to appear to be using the CEO's email address but not actually doing so.
How this scam works
This dissection is going to use a real-world example that our customer received just last week, we have modified the names in this example so as not to identify the client but otherwise what you see below is exactly what the victim saw.
The first email looked like this-
From: Howard Frank
Sent: Monday, 12 August 2019 12:43 PM
To: Vanessa Ferguson
What is the processing time for payments to the USA?
Sent from my mobile
In this company, Vanessa (not her real name) is one of two people whose duties include paying bills, suppliers invoices etc. Howard Frank is the man who owns and runs the business.
Vanessa then dutifully replies and tells Howard-
I'm pretty sure they go through over night as long as they are processed by 2-4pm.
Several emails bounce back-and-forth, all the while adding to the illusion that Vanessa is having an email conversation with her boss.
In the next email the scammer replies with this-
I need to process a payment of $44,735 to the US.
Let me know when to send you the bank details
More emails are traded then the scammer decides the time is right and instructs his victim to transfer the funds, the scammer provides details for the bank transfer to take place along with the note-
Send me the payment receipt when the payment is completed.
It wasn't until this last email that our victim, Vanessa, noticed that the while the email display name was correct for her boss, the actual email address was not, she saw this in the email trail and that was when she called us-
This scam was very nearly successful and in fact Howard Frank was actually in the United States on business at the time. Was it a coincidence that the scammer attacked when they did and through dumb luck chose a time and destination currency that aligned with the CEO's real-life movements or was this CEO's electronically stalked, perhaps via social media? We will probably never know for sure but I'd say this was likely a targeted attack.
In this instance, Vanessa probably should have questioned the timing of the emails (what time of day was it in the USA where Howard was located at the time?).
How to avoid becoming a victim yourself
There really is only one way to be confident that you won't be caught out by such a scam yourself and that is to put a procedure in place to ensure that any such requests for money transfer are confirmed by phone call prior to money changing hands.
One thing is for sure, If Vanessa had have transferred the money it is extremely unlikely that it would have ever been recovered.
I hope you have enjoyed this series and have learned something from it. Feel free to leave a comment below.