FBI stresses cybersecurity amid rash of scams


Aaron Cole lost $123,000 in a scam

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warning to Portland residents about cyber crime after a family was scammed out of a down payment on their house.

The Portland FBI office has received more than 2,000 victim complaints about computer-enabled crimes in just the last 9 months. One of the growing crimes is from thieves hacking into company email accounts and then posing as the business, communicating with customers and intercepting payments.

One victim of this scam, Aaron Cole, said he wired $123,000 for a house down payment to what he thought was the bank in directions from what he thought was the title company. The email looked like all the other correspondence he had with the title company. However, the final email with instructions on where to wire the money was a sophisticated scam.

“It was probably the worst day of my life,” said Cole.

The scam email even included familiar names and phone numbers of people he had been working with at the title company.

“The worst feeling,” said Cole as he described what he went through when he realized what happened. “I can’t even really describe it—we’ve all had someone close to you die, and you have that feeling in you. I’ve had that several times—it’s that plus some and having to go home and tell my wife I gave away all the money.”

Cole found out a week later about the loss when his title company called to give him wiring instructions. The FBI couldn’t recover the money, but the title company hired him for that sum to help educate others about this type of fraud.

It’s the same type of crime that happened to the Portland Public Schools a few months ago. Almost $3 million was wired by the district to a fake contractor, but the scam was quickly discovered and recovered with FBI help.

Scammers have moved on from the days of misspellings and strange domain names, according to the FBI.

“It’s not like that anymore. They’ve stolen the templates of these companies like a man in the middle and they have almost the exact format, so you can’t tell,” said FBI Special Agent George Chamberlin.

The FBI wants consumers to know that banks and title companies are generally not sending wire instructions through email. There are often portals customers go through to do the transaction that have layers of encryption and several steps of authentication. And there’s always the old fashioned way to keep money safe.

“Pick up the phone and call and verify you are talking with a legitimate agent before any money is sent,” said Chamberlin.

Some scams are sophisticated to the point that the fraudulent emails even include a warning about scam emails.

“It’s not being paranoid or silly. It’s due diligence—right thing to do these days,” said FBI Special Agent Renn Cannon.

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