The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that 281 suspects had been arrested around the world in connection with email scams and wire transfer fraud.
The crackdown, which resulted in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million and arrests spanning 10 different countries, is a sign of the federal government's urgency around this ever-shifting threat. The greatest number of arrests took place in Nigeria, where 167 people were apprehended. Another 74 people were arrested in the United States, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana.
“The Department of Justice has increased efforts in taking aggressive enforcement action against fraudsters who are targeting American citizens and their businesses in business email compromise schemes and other cyber-enabled financial crimes,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in a statement.
According to the Justice Department, investigators began targeting people involved in this scam in May with Operation reWired, and discovered that conspirators stole more than 250,000 identities and filed more than 10,000 fraudulent tax returns in an attempt to receive more than $91 million in refunds.
These so-called Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams are related to and often done along with other types of fraud like romance scams, rental scams, lottery scams, and employment opportunities scams, investigators said.
With employment scammers, victims will often be tricked into submitting their personal identifying information to bogus job listings, get "hired" for work-from-home roles, get overpaid for that work, and then get asked to wire back the overage before the initial payment goes through.
“The FBI is working every day to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that target our businesses and our citizens,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in a statement. “Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after you, no matter where you are.
Email scams have become ubiquitous. The FBI reported this week that between June 2016 and July 2019 there were more than 166,000 domestic and international reports of email fraud resulting in more than $26 billion in losses.