The US Department of Justice announced Tuesday that 281 people were arrested in a global crackdown on wire transfer scams.
Over a four-month period, “Operation reWired” was aimed at stopping so-called business email compromise (BEC) schemes, which are “designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals,” the Justice Department said.
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The schemes under investigation were said to have originated with transnational criminal organizations in Nigeria, but then spread throughout the world. The operation was carried out in conjunction with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Along with 74 arrests in the United States, 167 people were arrested in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana. Other arrests were made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the UK. The operation resulted in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million (€3.35 million).
Companies and individuals targeted
Law enforcement officials said the online scams targeting companies are designed to trick employees with access to finances into making wire transfers to fake bank accounts. Fraudsters impersonate a key employee or business partner after obtaining access to that person’s email account. The victim then transfers money to an account controlled by criminals.
Individuals are often targeted with real estate scams, business opportunity scams, or romance scams, where victims are lulled into believing they are in a legitimate relationship, and are tricked into sending or laundering money.
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The Justice Department said that BEC scams led to around $1.3 billion in losses worldwide in 2018.
“Operation reWired sends a clear message to criminals, that no matter how or where crimes are committed, we will do everything within our means to dismantle criminal enterprises that seek to manipulate US institutions and taxpayers,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
A similar operation conducted in June 2018, “Operation Wire Wire,” was the first internationally coordinated effort to take down BEC scammers.
The Justice Department said that the 2018 operation resulted in the arrest of 74 individuals, the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
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