A shopping spree in Beverly Hills, a luxury vacation in Mexico, a bank account that jumped from $299.77 to $1.4 million overnight. From the outside, it looked like Moe and Kateryna Abourched had won the lottery. But this big payday didn’t come from lucky numbers. Rather, a public school district in Michigan was tricked into wiring its monthly health insurance payment to the bank account of a California nail salon the Abourcheds owned, according to a search warrant application filed by a Secret Service agent in federal court.
The district — and taxpayers — fell victim to an online scam called Business Email Compromise, or BEC for short, police say. The couple deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any crimes.
BEC scams are a type of crime where criminals hack into email accounts, pretend to be someone they’re not and fool victims into sending money where it doesn’t belong. These crimes get far less attention than the massive ransomware attacks that have triggered a powerful government response, but BEC scams have been by far the costliest type of cybercrime in the U.S. for years, according to the FBI — siphoning untold billions from the economy as authorities struggle to keep up.
The huge payoffs and low risks associated with BEC scams have attracted criminals worldwide. Some flaunt their ill-gotten riches on social media, posing in pictures next to Ferraris, Bentleys and stacks of cash.
“The scammers are extremely well organized and law enforcement is not,” said Sherry Williams, a director of a San Francisco nonprofit recently hit by a BEC scam.
Losses in the U.S. to BEC scams in 2021 were nearly $2.4 billion, according to a new report by the FBI. That’s a 33% increase from 2020 and more than a tenfold increase from just seven years ago.
And experts say many victims never come forward and the FBI’s numbers only show a small fraction of how much money is stolen.
“It’s one of the most lucrative things out there,” said Shalabh Mohan, chief product officer at Area 1 Security.
In the nail salon case involving Grand Rapids, police say $2.8 million was stolen. Banks were able to recall about half that amount once the scam was discovered,…