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FBI warns of growing losses from business email scams

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning Monday about a dramatic rise in the “business email compromise” scam, where cyber criminals spoof company and company officials' email, which it said has led to “massive” financial losses in Phoenix and other cities.

The warning, which was issued by the FBI's Phoenix division, said schemers spoof company email, or use social engineering to assume the identity of the CEO, a company attorney, or trusted vendors.

The FBI said these criminals research employees who manage money and use language specific to the company they are targeting, then request a wire fraud transfer using dollar amounts that lend legitimacy.

The FBI said the victims including large companies, tech companies, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The fraud often targets businesses that work with foreign suppliers or regularly perform wire transfer payments, according to the FBI.

The report says law enforcement has received reports from 17,642 victims reporting losses of more than $2.3 billion between October 2013 and February 2016. It said there has been a 270% increase in identified victims and exposed loss since January 2015.

The FBI said companies victimized by the scam should contact their financial institution immediately and request that these institutions contact the financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent. They should also file a complaint, regardless of the dollar loss, to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The FBI also suggests businesses be wary of email only wire transfers and urgent requests; phone and verify legitimate business partners, be cautious of mimicked email addresses, and “practice multi-level authentication.”

The IRS has issued a warning against emails sent to payroll and human resources departments seeking personal information that may look like they are from the CEO but are in fact “spear phishing” attacks by cyber criminals.