Fraud Alert: Have Your Employees Been Compromised?
Call it spear phishing, social engineering or business email compromise. This type of scheme has gotten plenty of coverage in recent years — when fraudsters posing as the boss or a vendor, or client convince an authorized employee to wire transfer funds to a fraudulent account, never to be seen again. Historically, it’s been a form of fraud that offers a quick payout and requires little work on the part of the perpetrator.
But now the thieves are changing their tactics.
“The methods used to perpetrate these fraudulent events are evolving. The fraudsters are investing more effort in orchestrating them, as the payouts can be significant. The targeted “windfall” has expanded too. No longer is it limited to a transfer of funds. We’re now seeing schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of tangible property,” said Patricia Barrett, Vice President and Head of Fidelity, Starr Companies.
Criminals are setting their sights on a company’s goods, not just their cash.
To pull that off, thieves use a hybrid of traditional fraud and sophisticated cyber tactics. Through hacking and malware, they can spy on a company’s operations, gathering valuable intelligence on executives and employees. Then they use social engineering tactics to trick workers into unwittingly sending a shipment of products their way.
An Emerging Form of Fraud: A Case Study
The experience of one small business — a distributor of small electronic devices — demonstrates how easy it is to fall victim to this type of theft. To sell its products, this company relied on its executives traveling to trade shows throughout the year, often for weeks at a time.
A fraudster, posing as a prospective customer, sent a link in an email to the company’s sales department. Once opened, the link set loose malware that allowed the perpetrator to “lie in wait,” watching the moves of company insiders. The fraudster knew who was scheduled to travel, when, and what type of property the traveler would need to have delivered. The fraudster knew the vernacular used by traveling executives, and what the protocol was for change requests.
Back at the office one day, an employee received an email that appeared to be from the chief executive. “Joe, the trade shows are going really well,” he said, “In fact, I’m down to less than a dozen mobile devices; I’m likely to run out before reaching my next stop.” He instructed the employee to send an additional shipment of electronics to the location of the next show in Las Vegas.
But there was a wrinkle. He’d had to change some travel plans and would no longer be staying at the conference hotel. He booked a room at the hotel across the street. He asked the employee to direct the shipment there instead.
Everything about the request made sense. It was feasible that the executive might need more products. He stated correctly where the next show would be. There was no reason to doubt that he had decided to switch hotels.
“The employee never questioned that the instruction came from the chief executive, so he transferred that property to the hotel and the entire shipment was lost,” Barrett said.
Executing this theft requires in-depth knowledge of a company’s hierarchy, business processes, and of the employees themselves. Because the potential payout is so large, these fraudsters often spend months gathering information before hitting “send” on that fraudulent email.
Malware is often part of their intel-gathering and may be introduced through social engineering. A phony email asking an employee to click a link or download an attachment could be all it takes to get a virus into the system.
By gaining access to the company’s network, thieves can examine billing systems, transaction records and vendor lists, getting a sense of what a normal transfer of goods looks like and who performs them. They can even obtain the executive’s travel itinerary.
They can also glean personal details and communication styles easily from social media.
“The target employee may have posted that he left work early Friday afternoon to attend his son’s baseball game. The copycat executive in the fraudulent email might ask, ‘How was your afternoon off? Who won the game?’” Barrett said. “It builds familiarity. The employee wouldn’t suspect that anyone else would know that level of detail.”
Email is not the only way to perpetrate this type of fraud, however. Criminals can be just as convincing over the phone.
At one organization, the Accounts Payable department received a call from one of their purported vendors, stating that the vendor had consolidated some banking relationships and needed to change the account listed on their contract.
The accounts payable employee sent a change form to an email address provided by the caller. She did not check the master vendor file, but trusted that the email given to her was correct. She did not phone the vendor at a previously verified phone number to validate the request. The caller posing as a vendor sent back the updated form within 15 minutes, and the change was initiated.
The organization proceeded to make three payments to the fraudulent account totaling $700,000. The mistake was not discovered until the real vendor followed up, asking why their payments were delayed.
“The payments slipped through because this was a multi-million-dollar business relationship; and it was not uncommon for them to transact significant business in a short period of time,” Barrett said. “The same tactic could be used to make change orders, diverting a shipment of inventory.”
“Though several insurers will consider providing coverage for fraudulent impersonations that result in a loss of funds, a coverage gap still remains for a loss of other tangible property,” Barrett said.
As with the loss of funds, recovering the stolen property in most cases is next to impossible.
“Once discovered, the trail can go cold very quickly,” Barrett said. To recoup the loss, insureds may have to navigate the intersection of crime, fidelity, cyber, and professional liability coverages.
Coloring in the Gray Areas with Prevention and Targeted Coverage
As cyber criminals grow more sophisticated, calculating and patient, companies need solutions that fill in those gray areas so prevalent in the world of cyber threat and fraud.
Starr Companies crafted an endorsement to its crime and fidelity coverages that covers the loss of other tangible property, in addition to loss of funds, resulting from fraudulent impersonation scams.
“The expanded Fraudulent Impersonation endorsement allows a company to secure coverage for loss of funds and loss of other tangible property; The endorsement is flexible in its structure. This allows the coverage to address the risks that are of most concern to a company. Whether the company is concerned about a loss of funds, a loss of other tangible property, or both the endorsement can be crafted to meet that company’s interests,” Barrett said.
It is widely recognized that one of the best defenses against social engineering risks is education at all levels of a company.
With that in mind, Starr’s Fraudulent Impersonation endorsement is accompanied with the offer of the Starr Companies-KnowBe4 Risk Management Program. KnowBe4 is an internationally recognized IT security firm. This program provides valuable risk management tools to assist in reducing the risk to fraudulent impersonation (social engineering) losses. The downloadable documents are designed to be circulated to employees at every level of the insured company/organization. This program is offered by Starr Companies at no cost to the insured. Upon binding, the Insured company will receive an information packet with instructions on how to access an exclusive area of the KnowBe4 website.
“We believe that the combination of this risk management program and the insurance protection is a winning one for businesses of all types and sizes,” Barrett said.
“Our knowledge and expertise enable us to connect clients with expert resources and to tailor coverage to meet each client’s particular exposures and buying needs,” Barrett said.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Starr Companies. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.