CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced today the filing of a federal civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of $1,047,535 seized from a money mule bank account being used to defraud a Virgin Islands business via a business email compromise scheme.
Reginald DeMatteis, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Office, joins U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
A business email compromise scheme, or BEC, is a sophisticated scam, often targeting businesses involved in wire transfer payments. The fraud is carried out by compromising and/or “spoofing” legitimate business email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques, to cause employees of the victim company (or other individuals involved in legitimate business transactions with the victim company) to transfer funds to accounts controlled by scammers. In addition to targeting businesses, BEC scams also often target individual victims, convincing victims to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the scammers. Money mule accounts are bank accounts used by fraudsters as a pass-through means of moving fraudulently obtained funds.
According to allegations in the filed civil forfeiture complaint, in or about January 2021, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) seized $1,047,535 held in a bank account on behalf of Boyang Group, Inc. (Boyang Group). As alleged in the complaint, at the urging of an acquaintance, an individual residing in Matthews, N.C., created Boyang Group in Florida, and opened a bank account in the company’s name. However, Boyang Group had no legitimate purpose and the Boyang Group’s bank account was operated solely as a pass-through money mule account to receive and distribute proceeds of the BEC scheme.
Specifically, as alleged in the complaint, between July and November 2020, one or more unidentified individuals (UI) perpetrated the BEC scheme against a private Virgin Islands business identified in the complaint as Victim Company. The Victim Company was in the process of purchasing real estate and was using a real estate agency to conduct the sale. The complaint alleges that UI perpetuated the BEC scheme by compromising the business email of an employee of the real estate agency. As alleged in the complaint, in November 2020, the UI used the real estate agency business email account to dupe an employee of the Victim Company, who had authority to conduct financial transactions on behalf of Victim Company, into wiring a payment of approximately $1,344,000 to the Boyang Group’s money mule bank account instead of the real estate agency’s so as to close a real estate sale.
As alleged in the complaint, following the fraudulent wire transfer into Boyang Group’s bank account, a UI initiated a $296,500 outgoing wire transfer from the Boyang Group’s money mule bank account to an unidentified bank account. Ultimately, the Victim Company uncovered the fraud and the theft was reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement traced the initial wire transaction from the Victim Company and proceeded to execute a warrant, seizing the fraudulently obtained funds from the Boyang Group’s money mule bank account. Law enforcement also identified the individual in Matthews who had opened the Boyang Group’s account.
“There has been a steady rise in business email compromise schemes in which online criminals recruit individuals to act as ‘money mules’ and transfer wired money stolen from victims back to the criminal perpetrators,” warned U.S. Attorney Murray. “I urge public, private and government entities and employees to stay vigilant and to protect themselves from BEC fraud, especially when conducting financial transactions at the direction of emails. And, I urge citizens to act responsibly and think twice before opening a bank account at the request of a person whom they don’t know and with no apparent legitimate purpose. Whether it’s an online romance, a business relationship, or a new work opportunity, remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
In December 2020, the U. Attorney’s Office joined the Justice Department in a landmark initiative aimed at global crackdown on money mule activity. As a result of the initiative, actions were taken to halt the conduct of approximately 2,300 money mules, spanning 92 federal districts. In addition, more than 35 individuals were criminally charged or arrested, including four individuals indicted in Western North Carolina for operating as money mules in two business email compromise schemes.
U.S Attorney Murray also commended the expeditious response of law enforcement stating that, “Law enforcement swiftly identified the money mule bank account and used civil forfeiture laws to secure a significant portion of the stolen funds. Identifying and seizing ill-gotten gains is a priority for my office, and civil asset forfeiture is an invaluable tool in our efforts to stop BEC fraud, particularly where perpetrators cannot easily be identified or apprehended.”
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the U.S. Secret Service for their investigation of the case.
Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Bain-Creed of the United States Attorney’s Office in Charlotte is handling the proceedings.
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