An FBI-led global campaign targeting transnational criminal syndicates conducting and facilitating Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes has resulted in the arrest of 65 people world-wide, highlighting an issue that can have devastating consequences for Australian businesses.
The FBI conducted Operation Eagle Sweep to execute a global takedown of criminal actors who profit from these intricate, exploitative fraud schemes. The operation was conducted between 1 September and 1 December 2021.
Australian police are coordinating their efforts against BEC schemes through the AFP-led multiagency taskforce Operation Dolos. A December 2021 announcement of the arrest of 18 money mules in Australia by New South Wales Police Force, Queensland Police and Victoria Police coincided with the same timeframe in which the FBI undertook Operation Eagle Sweep.
During the Operation Eagle Sweep campaign period AFP cybercrime investigators, in conjunction with Operation Dolos, also stopped more than $2.6 million from being laundered through Australian financial institutions. Details of the arrests can be read in the media release here.
The AFP, Northern Territory Police and NSW Police Force have collectively notified 61 businesses across Australia during September 2021 and December 2021, that they were the targets of BEC scammers. This followed the detection of malicious domains that impersonated legitimate Australian businesses to enable BECs and other types of cyber-enabled fraud.
ACT Policing executed a search warrant in the ACT regarding a recipient of proceeds of crime derived from a BEC scam. As a result of the search warrant, a woman was issued with a Police Criminal Caution for the offence of dealing in proceeds of crime contrary to section 114C of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT).The maximum penalty for this offence is two years’ imprisonment.
Australian Federal Police Commander Chris Goldsmid emphasised that BEC scams are sophisticated, insidious and a real and increasing threat to Australian business and government enterprises. It is hoped increased awareness and education of these frauds will ultimately prevent Australians from being scammed out of their hard-earned money.
“BEC is a fraud technique that redirects legitimate payments to incorrect bank accounts. Offenders will usually gain access to legitimate emails or invoices and change the account details for payment. The victim will then unsuspectingly pay to the offender’s bank account instead of to their intended recipient,” Commander Goldsmid said.
“BEC often goes unnoticed until the intended recipient of the funds asks about the missing payment, or the victim becomes aware that the funds have been deposited incorrectly.”
Operation Dolos targets cybercriminal syndicates involved in BEC, both in Australia and offshore. The taskforce consists of the AFP and all State and Territory policing partners, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), and representatives of the Australian financial sector and international law enforcement. All agencies participating in Operation Dolos strive to provide a coordinated response to combat BEC – a crime type which commonly crosses borders and jurisdictions. Last financial year the Operation Dolos Taskforce disrupted $5.9 million from being successfully defrauded by BEC syndicates. Currently this financial year the Operation Dolos Taskforce has disrupted in excess of $3.2 million.
In order for the Operation Dolos Taskforce to continue to achieve financial disruptions it is critical for timely reporting as soon as a BEC is detected. BEC victims should immediately report to their bank and also report through the ACSC. The ACSC is contactable 24/7 via ReportCyber, or by calling the Australian Cyber Security Hotline on 1300 CYBER1 (1300 292 371). This will ensure the reports reach the relevant policing jurisdiction for assessment and timely action in an attempt to recover the funds with the assistance of the Operation Dolos financial sector partners.
Commander Goldsmid said the cooperation and partnerships between law enforcement, the financial sector and private industry are pivotal to combating the threat posed by BEC.
“The AFP would like to acknowledge the work of the FBI and the Operation Dolos Taskforce members, which has prevented millions of dollars being lost to scammers and resulted in a significant blow to transnational organised crime syndicates involved in BEC schemes”, Commander Goldsmid said.
New South Wales Police Force Cybercrime Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Matthew Craft said targeting business email scams on a national level as part of Operation Dolos has proven overwhelmingly successful.
“Law enforcement will always be at its best when opportunities to collaborate with private industry are realised, and crime types are tackled across jurisdictional boundaries.
“Scammers use slight differences to trick your eye and gain your trust – so get in the habit of checking the email address, URL, and spelling used in all correspondence,” Detective Superintendent Craft said.
Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Jane Welsh, Crime Command said Victoria Police is committed to targeting these offences to ensure any impact on the Victorian community due to the activities of these criminal syndicates is minimised. Due to the international nature of these schemes, it is critically important that we continue to work in collaboration with our national and international law enforcement partners on these operations.
“While the results of this operation are promising, it’s important that businesses continue to look at measures to help prevent them falling victim to these types of sophisticated and often difficult to detect scams. There are a number of online resources available and we’d encourage people to take advantage of this,” Detective Superintendent Welsh said.
AUSTRAC National Manager Intelligence Operations, Michael Tink said AUSTRAC’s agile financial intelligence capabilities are critical in detecting and disrupting transnational cyber-enabled crimes like business email compromise.
“Our specialist financial cyber analysts deploy sophisticated tools to identify criminal financial networks, and have the agility to work across different domains. Partnering with national and international agencies is essential to disrupt transnational crime syndicates and keep Australians safe,” National Manager Tink said.