The typical victims of cyber fraud are lonely singles searching for love online or anyone who puts too much trust in an email.
But proof that even corporate financial professionals are not exempt from being swindled has come with the revelation that a company based in Omaha, Nebraska lost $17.2m in an email scam.
A senior employee at the Scoular Company, a privately owned commodities trader founded 120 years ago, wired the money to a bank in China last year in three tranches – one of $9.4m – after acting on instructions received in emails from fake addresses.
The emails were sent to Keith McMurtry, the corporate controller, and appeared to have come from Chuck Elsea, the chief executive, and its auditing firm. However, they were sent from a different address than the one usually used by Elsea, Omaha.com reported.
The FBI said that the first email on 26 June told McMurtry to wire $780,000 to Shanghai Pudong Development Bank – a genuine institution. The following day he complied with another instruction to transfer $7m, and then he sent another $9.4m three days later.
The first two emails from Elsea’s fake address told his colleague that the transfers were for a secret acquisition of a Chinese company and swore him to secrecy.
The second email gave the arrangement an air of legitimacy by telling McMurtry to contact an employee of the auditing firm for details of where to send the funds. He subsequently received an email that appeared to be from the firm telling him to send the money to the bank.
McMurtry told the FBI that he was “not suspicious of the three wire transfer requests” because Scoular had been considering expanding in China, the email address used by the fake auditors appeared to be genuine and the phone number given in one of the emails was answered by a person with a name given in one email when he called.
The fraudsters used email addresses set up in Germany, France and Israel and servers located in Moscow.
Elsea said the company had not been affected by the loss, but accepted that it would be difficult to recover the funds – although the FBI was attempting to do so.
The main victim appears to have been McMurtry: he is no longer one of the 800 people employed by Scoular.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010