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Scamwatch issues urgent warning about BEC scams

26 Nov 2018

Scamwatch is warning Australian businesses to take an urgent look at how they deal with accounts and invoices, after the number of invoice scams grew by a third this year.

Invoice scams are often presented as business email compromise (BEC) scams that are sophisticated and often undetected until it’s too late, says ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.

“It’s a scam that targets all kinds of businesses, including charities and local sporting clubs. There is a misconception these scams target just small business, however the largest amount of reports and losses came from medium sized businesses, including one that lost more than $300,000,” she explains.

BEC scams are presented in different variations. One common BEC scam happens when an attacker gains access to a company’s email accounts, or when an attacker spoofs a company’s email address to make it look like the attacker’s emails come from that company.

The attacker then hijacks the account that sends fake notices to genuine clients saying that the company’s bank details have changed. The attacker then provides details of an entirely new bank account and unwitting clients pay right into the attacker’s hands.

Because the emails look genuine either because they are coming from the company’s legitimate account or because the email address has been spoofed, customers are none the wiser.

“Businesses should also check directly with their supplier if they notice a change in account details. It’s vital businesses don’t do this just by return email or using other contact details provided. Find older communications to ensure you have the right contact details or otherwise independently source them, so they can be sure they’re not contacting the scammer,” says Rickard.

Other variations of the scam include attackers who pretend to be a senior manager or CEO and ask for funds to be transferred to an offshore account; as well as scams that can intercept house deposits.

Scamwatch says BEC scams cause significant financial harm and account for 63% of all losses to Scamwatch. That equates to an average loss of $30,000.

“Effective management procedures can go a long way towards preventing scams, so all businesses should firstly be aware these scams exist and that their staff know about them too,” says Rickard.

“They should consider a multi-person approval process for transactions over a certain dollar threshold and keep their IT security up-to-date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a good firewall.”

Businesses that suspect they have been the victim of a BEC scam should contact their financial providers immediately and consider professional IT advice to secure their emails and data.

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