WASHINGTON (CN) – Federal prosecutors unsealed indictments Wednesday against an overseas crew that defrauded companies of millions by using phony emails to impersonate corporate executives.
Operating out of a string of safe houses across Europe, four of the accused co-conspirators allegedly bought domain names with bitcoin and modified them with computer programs to make it appear as if their emails were coming from someone with the company.
Using those emails, prosecutors say, the fraudsters masqueraded as the executives of six European companies to trick mid-level employees into transferring them huge sums of money from the company’s bank account.
According to the indictment on this scheme, the phony executives gained the mid-level employees’ trust by telling them that they were placing them in charge of “secret” corporate takeovers.
They then asked the employees to send money from the corporate bank account. Once the money was wired over, members of the ring transferred the funds quickly to bank accounts in China and other countries, prosecutors say.
From 2014 to March 2015, this scheme netted the defendants more than $10 million, according to the indictment.
“Members of the transnational organized crime group who carried out these schemes were sophisticated, well connected and continually honed their techniques to exploit their victims,” Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office said in a statement. “In total, they stole more than $13 million from over 170 victims, primarily in the United States. Because of the dedication and perseverance of our law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad, the FBI’s multi-year investigation into these schemes and this international criminal network has yielded the disruption or return of more than $56 million in victim funds.”
Alongside the four people charged for the executive-impersonation scheme, prosecutors accused another eight individuals of a nearly three-year-long fraud that involved advertising cars they did not own at prices well below the normal rate.
Once they had a buyer on the hook, according to this indictment, the fraudsters told the duped buyers to transfer money into their bank accounts and then never sent over the car.
Seven others face charges for money laundering and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
Of the 19 people charged in the newly unsealed indictments, 16 were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. One other alleged member of the “transnational organized crime network” was already arrested while two remain at large, prosecutors say.
The four people charged in the business email scheme face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, while the eight involved in the car fraud face charges of conspiracy to commit bank and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit a travel act violation and conspiracy to commit money laundering.