BERLIN – A prominent local businessman with deep roots in the community was nearly bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars this week when a suspect or suspects hacked into his email account and instructed his brokerage firm to wire the money to an unidentified account.
On Tuesday, the victim, who prefers to remain anonymous to avoid risking further exposure, learned an Internet scheme carried out through his America On-Line (AOL) email account nearly cost him roughly $350,000. Only the alert actions and a little good will from an acquaintance at the brokerage firm from which the funds were to be sent prevented the potentially devastating loss.
According to the victim, an unknown suspect or suspects hacked into his AOL email account and instructed his brokerage firm to wire the money to an unidentified account. Through a series of emails, the suspects posed as the victim and told his brokerage firm that he was out of the country and couldn’t be reached by phone and that his nephew had died. The email instructed the brokerage to wire the $350,000 to an account.
The victim later learned a series of emails exchanged between his brokerage and the suspects posing as him had set in motion the steps for providing the money transfer.
“A friend of mine at the brokerage called me on Tuesday and said he was sorry for the loss of my nephew and that the firm was working on my transaction,” he said. “I told him I didn’t even have a nephew and that I hadn’t initiated any transactions with the firm. That’s when it all started to come to light. Naturally, I was completely floored.”
The victim immediately froze the email account in question and put a halt to the pending transfer. Over the next 24 hours or so, the victim tried to sort out what had almost happened and took steps to prevent it from happening again. He also contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its Internet crimes unit.
The FBI instructed him to file a report, online ironically, and that he didn’t need to contact local law enforcement because it appeared to be an international incident. The FBI took the report of the incident seriously, according to the victim.
“They told me it happens everyday,” he said. “In my particular case, I assume they hacked into my email account. The weird thing was, I didn’t have anything related to it in my inbox or sent folders. It looks like they got a hold of one email and started this conversation with the brokerage about my allegedly dead nephew and the need for the money transfer.”
The victim has spend the last few days attempting to clear up the ensuing mess and will likely have to continue to do so.
“I’m getting this out there because I hope this doesn’t happen to somebody else,” he said on Wednesday. “No money was lost, at least I don’t think it was, and no money was transferred, so I am lucky in some respects. It’s a bad thing and it apparently happens all the time. It’s a sinking feeling, like the floor just dropped out from under you.”
The victim said the best advice he learned from the incident is to be alert about one’s email accounts and brokerage and bank accounts.
“The best thing they could advise me to do is to frequently change my email passwords,” he said. “It didn’t really occur to me until this near miss just how important that is. They suggested I change my email account passwords every couple of weeks, or days even.”