A new form of cybercrime involving email is on the rise and the scammers behind this scheme have the Cook Islands on their radar.
In 2017, a local company was duped to transfer about $40,000 to an account in Malaysia.
But swift action from the Financial Intelligence Unit here helped repatriate the funds before the perpetrators could get their hands on them.
Now the Unit has joined INTERPOL to run a month long awareness to educate local businesses and government organisations on the business email compromise scheme.
Business email compromise is a type of scam targeting companies who conduct wire transfers and have suppliers abroad.
The scammers use corporate or publicly available email accounts of executives or high-level employees related to finance or involved with wire transfer payments to do fraudulent transfers.
In February 2017, the Financial Intelligence Unit received an urgent phone call from a reporting institution relating to cyber fraud where the sum of approximately $40,000 was unlawfully debited from a customer’s account under a false misrepresentation.
Senior intelligence analyst Walter Henry said a company letter head and email was compromised by a third-party scammer purportedly based in Malaysia.
Henry said the email and company letter head requested for two separate transactions to be transferred to two separate accounts at the same institution as payment for invoices for services rendered.
The funds were transferred to the two accounts in Malaysia, he said.
“Immediately, the head of Financial Intelligence Unit, contacted his counterparts in Malaysia to initiate an urgent investigation while a formal request was being attended to and finalised,” Henry said.
The Malaysian counterpart was able to trace the funds and urgently applied a freeze on the funds.
“The whole process was completed in two and a half hours Cook Islands time (1.30pm – 4.00pm) and the funds were successfully repatriated back to the Cook Islands.”
Phil Hunkin, the head of the Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit, said they do not want to be involved in trying to recover money, asking businesses and organisations to be alert of such scheme.
Hunkin said they were lucky to repatriate the funds in 2017 and this operation by no means guarantee recovery of money in future cases.
He said the awareness campaign run by INTERPOL was basically to protect the general public from becoming victims to email scams.
“They are doing a month long promotion where they will be providing infographics that will provide people with information on how not to become a victim,” Hunkin said.
“This campaign is to try and prevent this scam from happening so we at the Financial Intelligence Unit have circulated the details to all the government departments and all the reporting institutions, including the Cook Islands Police, and we wish to raise awareness more widely to the general public.”