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Email scams targeting businesses multiplying

Better Business Bureau offers some simple ways for employees and companies to avoid being taken.

Palos Park police are warning consumers about online scams during Black Friday weekend.
Reports of an email scam targeting employees with access to company bank accounts have tripled in the past three years, the Better Business Bureau reports.
AP file photo

An email scam that targets employees with access to company bank accounts has resulted in more losses than any other type of fraud in the United States since 2016 — and there are some very low-tech ways to avoid it.

If a fishy-looking email from a boss tells an employee to transfer money from a company account to a separate account appears in your inbox, try simply popping your head into the boss’s office to verify the directive. Or call your boss.

This simple safeguard could have saved American companies more than $3 billion since 2016, far more than any other type of fraud, according to a new study conducted by the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

”A call can save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Chicago BBB.

The con can be tricky to detect because fraudsters often disguise emails so they appear as if they’re from a boss. It’s also not uncommon for a conman to hack into a boss’s email account and directly send a message.

Bernas urged everyone to use multiple authentications on their email accounts. Relying on a simple username and password is like “only using the little lock on your screen door” to thwart burglars, Bernas said.

The scams, known as “Business Email Compromise Scams,” have tripled in the past three years — with at least 80% of businesses receiving at least one of the emails in 2018, including his own office, Bernas said.

A fake email bearing Bernas’ name asked a human resources employee to pay for a batch of gift cards.

A few minutes later, the employee received a text message from someone claiming to be Bernas asking if task had been completed.

”That was new. We hadn’t seen that before,” Bernas said of the text.

Educating the public on the matter is key, Bernas said. ”We live in a world today that revolves around email,” he said.

Steve Bernas, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.
Steve Bernas, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.
Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times