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Beware new email scam targeting South African businesses

Beware new email scam targeting South African businesses

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) is warning business banking customers about a new scam targeting local businesses.

The scam is known as ‘Business Email Compromise’ (BEC) where criminals literally ‘steal money by asking for it’. This scam targets specific employees in organisations who are authorised to transfer funds or make payments.

According to Mimecast’s State of Email Security Report 2019, in the previous 12 months alone, 67% of organisations said they saw the volume of impersonation attacks increase, and 73% of impersonation attack victims experienced a direct resulting loss.

“Between May 2018 and July 2019, there was a 100% increase in identified global exposed losses due to BEC scams,” Sabric said.

“These stats are alarming as South Africa has also seen a definite increase in this type of scam, in line with global trends.”

The way the scam works

Criminals use information obtained from company websites and/or other digital platforms to identify the details of CEOs, Financial Directors and other key senior individuals.

They then impersonate these individuals by sending electronic requests via email or text message to junior staff in the accounting or finance function requesting that an urgent payment be made to a specific beneficiary.

Another way criminals glean information to perpetuate this crime is through phishing attacks, where users are sent emails containing malicious links and are then manipulated into clicking on them to install malware.

This malware is designed to access the network and monitor mailboxes to enable criminals to learn about payment patterns, who the role players are and to understand individual communication styles, including typically used words or phrases.

This is to ensure that when a criminal impersonates the person issuing the directive to make a payment, it comes off as authentic and does not arouse any suspicion.

Criminals will also use email spoofing software to spoof and email domains to trick the recipient into thinking that an email containing a payment instruction, is from the usual authoriser.

“By the time the employee realises that funds have been paid into the incorrect account, it is too late as criminals use accounts belonging to ‘money mules’, who open accounts for this purpose, and then further launder the money by quickly moving it into other accounts,” Sabric said.

“We urge staff to be vigilant about checking a senders email address very carefully should they receive an email instructing them to make a payment. Often, the address will only differ by one or two characters”

The group recommended that organisations deploy multi-tiered risk mitigation strategies to prevent Business Email Compromises.

These should include digital resilience mechanisms such as intrusion detection, penetration tests and firewalls, robust policies and procedures with inherent checks and balances, as well education and awareness for staff.

Sabric offered the following tips to help avoid falling victim to scams: