Federal authorities announced Monday that an investigation resulted in 74 arrests of people in the U.S. and overseas who allegedly took part in schemes to intercept wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including in real estate transactions. Federal authorities seized nearly $2.4 million and recovered about $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
The arrests were made as part of a six-month investigation, dubbed Operation Wire Wire, that was coordinated by a multiagency task force, including the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Treasury, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Over the last two weeks, the agencies have arrested 42 people in the U.S., 29 in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius, and Poland.
The agencies investigated “Business Email Compromise” schemes, where hackers attempt to gain access to email accounts of employees. The scams also involved some real estate transactions. For example, a hacker pretends to be a real estate professional, gains access to the person’s email account, and requests that real estate buyers wire their funds unknowingly to fraudulent accounts. Two years ago, the National Association of REALTORS® and the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to real estate professionals and consumers that scammers were attempting to pose as real estate professionals and title insurance companies to try to dupe them out of their down payment and closing costs.
Among the recent arrests, a 25-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., man was detained because he is accused of gaining access to email accounts belonging to a Massachusetts real estate attorney and sending emails to recipients that “spoofed” the attorney’s account. In one case, the man allegedly instructed an email recipient to transfer nearly $500,000—that was intended to be used for a payment in a real estate transaction—to a fraudulent account.
“Fraudsters can rob people of their life’s savings in a matter of minutes,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “These are malicious and morally repugnant crimes. The Department of Justice has taken aggressive action against fraudsters in recent months, conducting the largest sweep of fraud against American seniors in history back in February. … We will continue to go on offense against fraudsters so that the American people can have safety and peace of mind.”