Hundreds of individuals were arrested over a four-month period around the world as part of an operation to crack down on scams meant to hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
In total, 281 individuals were arrested worldwide, with 74 of these arrests taking place in the United States, as part of Operation reWired.
The operation also involved the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Homeland Security, State and Treasury departments. It was meant to disrupt business email compromise (BEC) schemes.
This type of scheme typically targets employees of an organization with access to company finances, or those who work with wire transfers, and convinces them to transfer funds to an account controlled by the criminals. The Justice Department noted that many individuals targeted were senior citizens.
More than half of the arrests were made in Nigeria, while other individuals were taken into custody in Turkey, Ghana, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya and Malaysia. Authorities also seized nearly $3.7 million as part of the arrests.
Some of the arrests involved criminal organizations that defrauded businesses, with others involving individual victims involved in wire transfer.
“The Department of Justice has increased efforts in taking aggressive enforcement action against fraudsters who are targeting American citizens and their businesses in business email compromise schemes and other cyber-enabled financial crimes,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement. “Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray added in a statement that “through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after you, no matter where you are. And to the public, we’ll keep doing whatever we can to protect you.”
Matthew Albence, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, emphasized that the operation “sends a clear message to criminals, that no matter how or where crimes are committed, we will do everything within our means to dismantle criminal enterprises that seek to manipulate U.S. institutions and taxpayers.”
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, about $1.3 billion was lost due to both BEC schemes and email account compromises in 2018. The Justice Department noted in the Operation reWired announcement that it plans to “continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute the perpetrators, including money mules, regardless of where they are located.”
Operation reWired comes after the 2018 Operation Wire Wire, which saw the arrest of 74 individuals for BEC schemes. The Justice Department also unsealed a federal indictment last month charging 80 individuals with conspiring to steal millions of dollars through BEC schemes and romance-related scams.