Criminal justice agencies sent a strong message to fraudsters when the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced a 13-membered task force against cyber fraud in February 2021.
The task force is a coalition of local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies – a development that will foster cross-jurisdictional investigation and prosecution of indicted suspects. These agencies are especially committed to stemming the movement of fraud proceeds through banks in the Atlanta area.
Fraudsters reportedly use Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud schemes to dupe unsuspecting residents of Atlanta and lauder the money through money mules.
Speaking in a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said money mules have made it lucrative for fraudsters to transfer their ill-gotten wealth – this has also made fraudsters brazen in their attempts. By working together, the criminal justice agencies will ligate this lifeline and disrupt the growing criminal enterprise in Atlanta.
According to the FBI, there has been an uptick in business email scams – the scams now account for 40 percent of all cybercrime losses. And the Bureau intends to clamp down on the crime, especially because 25 percent of BEC attackers live in the United States. Furthermore, nearly half of the US-based BEC fraudsters stay in a handful of metro areas, including the metro Atlanta areas.
The FBI says these cybercrimes affect thousands of Georgia residents, many of whom are elderly citizens and small businesses whose entire livelihoods have been wiped out by scammers.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr reiterated this concern for businesses and residents and highlighted the need to educate residents on online security practices since fraudsters can target anyone who uses communication tools for personal and business communications.
Carr also announced that federal, state, and local partners would partner with local groups to educate Georgia citizens and businesses on the telltale signs of cyber fraud attempts.
Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley, and Cobb County District Attorney Flynn D. Broady Jr., pledged to protect residents of their counties.
Broady said the task force would focus on prevention and identifying individuals who serve as money mules in Georgia. The District Attorney also urged residents and businesses to verify all money-related requests with a phone call before making the transaction.
“Understand that once the money is sent, it’s gone,” said Broady.
How Business Email Scams Work
Many individuals use emails for communications in their personal and professional lives. Business Email Compromise schemes exploit this reliance on emails. A typical BEC scam begins when the scammer identifies a target – scammers do online research and actively look through the social media accounts of prospective victims for vulnerability.
Once they identify a victim, the scammer crafts an email, making what appears to be a legitimate request. Because the request looks and sounds like what the individual or company receives on a typical day, the victim does not suspect foul play and processes the request via the wiring instructions provided. However, there is one telltale sign that victims overlook – the change in financial information. The following examples illustrate:
- The scammer pretends to be a vendor known to the company and sends an invoice with updated bank details.
- An executive assistant receives an email from the CEO directing them to purchase dozens of gift cards for employee rewards. Only this time, the supposed CEO asks for the serial number as they want to reward the employees personally.
- A recent homebuyer receives a message from their title company. The email notifies the buyer to wire the down payment to a new bank account.
Scammers have made off with hundreds and thousands of dollars in scenarios like these. Unsurprisingly, these emails are always urgent. Unfortunately, the victim fails to do due diligence before sending the money.
A quick phone call, a reverse email search, or a reverse phone search would have prevented these.
The Georgia Cyber Fraud TaskForce
The cross-jurisdictional task force includes agents from:
- Department of Justice – U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia
- Georgia Attorney General’s Office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta
- Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI)
- U.S. Secret Service Atlanta Field Office
- Atlanta Police Department
- Sandy Springs Police Department
- Smyrna Police Department
- DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office
- Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office
- Fulton County District Attorney’s Office
- Clayton County District Attorney’s Office
- Cobb County District Attorney’s Office