FBI busts international email fraud ring that stole millions

Forwarded to handcuffs.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

Police arrested 74 suspects involved in an international email scam bust.

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The FBI announced 74 arrests across seven countries in a major email fraud bust on Monday. 

The alleged email scammers, spread across seven countries, would target midsize businesses, looking to trick employees who had access to company finances. This "cyber-enabled financial fraud" -- which originated in Nigeria, the same source of the notorious Nigerian prince email scams -- fools victims into believing they're sending money to business partners, while they're really giving thousands of dollars away to thieves.

It doesn't just happen to small businesses, though. Google and Facebook fell victim to a $100 million email scam thanks to an elaborate scheme from a suspect in Lithuania. 

The investigation, which lasted for six months, resulted in 42 arrests in the US, 29 arrests in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius and Poland. The FBI said it's recovered about $14 million from the scammers, and seized $2.4 million from its Operation WireWire. 

"We will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners around the world to end these fraud schemes and protect the hard-earned assets of our citizens," FBI director Christopher Wray said in a statement

The operation also included the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department and the US Postal Inspection Service. The US also partnered with law enforcement in Nigeria, Poland, Canada, Mauritius, Indonesia and Malaysia. 

The Justice Department charged 23 people in Florida for laundering at least $10 million from email scams, targeting several companies and a law firm, according to court documents. Prosecutors also charged two Nigerian nationals living in Dallas for allegedly scamming a real estate attorney, with a fake email requesting $246,000. The two are charged with laundering about $665,000, according to court records.

Another three suspects in Connecticut are charged with allegedly trying to steal $2.6 million through email scams. One victim actually lost at least $440,000 from the email fraud.

"Fraudsters can rob people of their life's savings in a matter of minutes," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "These are malicious and morally repugnant crimes."

Email fraud is a booming business for cybercriminals, with the Internet Crime Complaint Center estimating there's been more than $3.7 billion lost because of such scams.

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