Beyond Alerts: Lessons from the Case of a BEC Mastermind

April 17, 2024 by Verafin

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is among the greatest threats to our financial system, linked to $6.7 billion in losses globally and over 20,000 complaints to the FBI last year. Beyond alerts and compliance documents, financial professionals are the bedrock protecting the integrity of the financial system from its perpetrators — and real-world cases are crucial learning opportunities to strengthen our understanding of the crime, and the need for innovation to respond effectively. 

Through a case unsealed by the Department of Justice, this blog examines lessons learned for financial professionals and their institutions in fighting BEC and highlights why collective action through a consortium approach is essential to prevention.

Fame, Fortune & A BEC Kingpin

“I hope someday I will be inspiring more young people to join me on this path.”
Ramon “Hushpuppi” Abbas, Convicted Cybercrime Kingpin

The case of Ramon Abbas shows how far BEC actors will go to amass their fortune – and how financial institutions can help prevent these crimes. Abbas was a kingpin for a crime syndicate who stole at least $24 million through BEC and cyber-enabled fraud, while flaunting a lavish lifestyle funded by the proceeds. From aiding a major online bank heist to assisting one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, Ramon thrived at the crossroads of financial crime with luxury cars, designer clothes, private jets, and a watch worth more than a house — all posted on social media to motivate the desperate and greedy to prey on the vulnerable. 

“Mr. Abbas, among the most high-profile money launderers in the world, has admitted to his significant role in perpetrating global BEC fraud, a scheme currently plaguing Americans… His celebrity status and ability to make connections seeped into legitimate organizations… led to several spin-off schemes in the U.S. and abroad.” 

Kristi Johnson, Assistant Director, FBI Los Angeles Field Office 

By the time of his sentencing to over 11 years in federal prison, Ramon’s online cult of personality had already encouraged copycat crimes worldwide — perpetuating the threat to financial institutions and their customers. As the scale and impact of BEC continues, vigilance is crucial to deny criminals like Ramon the profit and fame they seek. 

Lessons Learned: Warning Signs of BEC

BEC scams often involve using social engineering tactics to request an irrevocable payment, such as a wire, from high-value targets. Increasingly, companies in the real estate sector have been targeted, given the considerable monetary value of real estate transactions. According to an FBI affidavit, Ramon approached the crime in much the same fashion, having defrauded a law firm of a nearly $1 million real estate payment using a spoofed email address and fraudulent wire instructions. Convinced the transaction was genuine, the law firm failed to realize the scam for several days, and none of the funds were recovered. 

Through vigilant monitoring of financial indicators, financial institutions can identify similar activity before it is too late. Key financial indicators of BEC can include:

  • large payments to new recipients,
  • company payments to individuals,
  • inaccurate routing details,
  • and transfers initiated near end-of-day or other cut-off windows.

Consortium insights can also prove critical in determining if the payee with whom your customer is transacting has a history of legitimate activity, or represents an account opened to facilitate fraud. 

Defending the Financial System

Ramon Abbas was not a lone actor — organized criminal networks such as Ramon’s exacerbate the world’s $3.1 trillion financial crime epidemic and fuel massive fraud losses which totaled $485.6 billion globally last year. As financial crime increases and criminals adapt, the industry cannot keep pace with added resources alone. To effectively combat BEC and other payments fraud scams, financial institutions need a holistic solution that provides effective detection across commonly exploited channels, such as wire, ACH, and real-time payments. 

By working together through a consortium approach, financial institutions can shut down suspicious payments often at the heart of many BEC attempts, such as fraudulent wire and ACH transfers, and proactively defend against future fraud challenges perpetrated by single bad actors, and transnational criminal organizations. Combining behavioral evidence with consortium insights from over 575M counterparty profiles, Verafin’s payment fraud approach allows you to truly understand the risk associated with a payor and payees who do not bank at your institution, and interdict in real-time before funds leave your institution. 

The financial sector plays a critical role in fighting real-world criminals who devastate the lives of people in communities around the world. We all have a role to play in protecting our financial system — from ensuring day-to-day vigilance to identify fraud scams such as BEC at the outset, and embracing innovative approaches that allow for the collective action required to shut down large-scale criminal enterprises. 

For more information on Verafin’s consortium approach to combating payments fraud, download our Product Brochure. 

Verafin is the industry leader in enterprise Financial Crime Management solutions, providing a cloud-based, secure software platform for Fraud Detection and Management, BSA/AML Compliance and Management, High-Risk Customer Management and Information Sharing. Over 3800 banks and credit unions use Verafin to effectively fight financial crime and comply with regulations. Leveraging its unique big data intelligence, visual storytelling and collaborative investigation capabilities, Verafin significantly reduces false positive alerts, delivers context-rich insights and streamlines the daunting BSA/AML compliance processes that financial institutions face today.

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