Email scams are back in the news after it emerged that cybercriminals tricked a staff member working for Shark Tank host Barbara Corcoran into handing over nearly $400,000.
Corcoran revealed the incident in an interview with People magazine, explaining how her bookkeeper wired $388,700 to a bank account set up by the scammers after receiving an emailed invoice “approving the payment for a real estate renovation.”
The Shark Tank host said the email looked as if it had been sent by her assistant, adding that staff felt there was no reason to be suspicious of the email as the office is often dealing with real estate matters.
According to Corcoran, her bookkeeper communicated with the scammer (thinking it was the assistant) over a number of emails, culminating in the wiring of the funds earlier this week.
The deceit only came to light later when the bookkeeper realized that the cybercriminals had been using an email address that was very slightly different from the assistant’s.
“The detail that no one caught was that my assistant’s email address was misspelled by one letter, making it the fake email address set up by the scammers,” Corcoran said. It meant that the fraudsters must have known the assistant’s real email address, which gave them the opportunity to attempt the scam.
Investigators working on behalf of Corcoran were able to trace the emails back to an IP address in China, according to TMZ, which broke the story.
The TV host said that while she initially felt upset about what had happened, she then remembered that it was “only money.” Her nonchalant manner regarding the loss of such a large amount of cash likely has something to do with the $66 million she made from the sale of her real estate business in 2001.
Responding to media coverage of the incident, Corcoran tweeted on Thursday: “Lesson learned: Be careful when you wire money!”
In a bid to tackle the scourge of email scams that go after people’s cash, the FBI has been working with investigators around the world. It revealed last fall that 280 people accused of such activities had been arrested in a global operation across 10 countries. Seventy-four of the arrests took place in the U.S. The suspects had allegedly engaged in so-called Business Email Compromise scams — similar to the one that targeted Corcoran — which try to trick people into sending cash via wire transfers.
Another high-profile case involving Japan Airlines several years ago saw an employee wire more than $3 million to a fraudster.
Whether anyone will face justice in Corcoran’s case remains to be seen, though the FBI says it will continue to work with others to track down and arrest those behind such scams.