Thieves managed to trick the Puerto Rico government into
making $2.6 million worth of payments to the wrong recipient in an elaborate
Tricking local government officials into making payments
to bogus accounts is not as uncommon as you might think. It’s usually done
through a targeted phishing campaign. The right precautions should make it next
to impossible, but a combination of carelessness, incompetence, and lack of
training in identifying BEC scams (business email compromise) or social
engineering can create a perfect storm.
The victim in Puerto Rico was the Industrial Development
Company. The authorities have released very little information about the
incident, just that an email received on January 17 prompted an employee to
change the banking account for remittance payments.
“This is a very serious situation, extremely
serious,” said Manuel Laboy,
the Industrial Development Company, in an interview with The AP. “We want it to
be investigated until the last consequences. I cannot speculate about how these
things might happen.”
It’s still unclear whether they can trace the account
holder or how they found out about the payments. Just last month, a similar
incident was reported in the town
of Erie, Colorado, which was defrauded of $1.1 million.
The method used in both incidents is similar to BEC scams,
with a few minor differences. In BEC events, bad actors impersonate someone in
the company who was previously targeted, to persuade the financial department,
for example, to make a payment.
In the case of these governments, someone impersonates a
point of contact from a company that has a contract with the city and asks for
change in payments, usually by diverting the funds to another account.