International Business E-Mail Compromise Takedown

Today, federal authorities—including the Department of Justice and the FBI—announced a major coordinated law enforcement effort to disrupt international business e-mail compromise (BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals.

Operation WireWire—which also included the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service—involved a six-month sweep that culminated in over two weeks of intensified law enforcement activity resulting in 74 arrests in the U.S. and overseas, including 42 in the U.S., 29 in Nigeria, and three in Canada, Mauritius, and Poland. The operation also resulted in the seizure of nearly $2.4 million and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.

A number of cases charged in this operation involved international criminal organizations that defrauded small- to large-sized businesses, while others involved individual victims who transferred high-dollar amounts or sensitive records in the course of business. The devastating impacts these cases have on victims and victim companies affect not only the individual business but also the global economy. Since the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began formally keeping track of BEC and its variant, e-mail account compromise (EAC), there has been a loss of over $3.7 billion reported to the IC3.

BEC, also known as cyber-enabled financial fraud, is a sophisticated scam that often targets employees with access to company finances and trick them—using a variety of methods like social engineering and computer intrusions—into making wire transfers to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners but instead belong to accounts controlled by the criminals themselves. And these same criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC schemes also exploit individual victims—often real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others—by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals.

Foreign citizens perpetrate many of these schemes, which originated in Nigeria but have spread throughout the world.

During Operation WireWire, U.S. law enforcement agents executed more than 51 domestic actions, including search warrants, asset seizure warrants, and money mule warning letters. And local and state law enforcement partners on FBI task forces across the country, with the assistance of multiple district attorney’s offices, charged 15 alleged money mules for their roles in defrauding victims.

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Court Says Border Agents Need Suspicion to Search Cellphones

U.S. border authorities cannot search the cellphones of travelers without having some reason to believe a particular traveler has committed a crime, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in the case of a Turkish national who was arrested at Dulles International Airport after agents found firearm parts in his luggage.

A lower court judge refused to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of Hamza Kolsuz’s phone.

The 4th Circuit upheld that ruling and found that a forensic search of electronic devices requires “individualized suspicion” of wrongdoing. The court said agents had that suspicion because Kolsuz had made two previous attempts to smuggle weapons parts out of the U.S.

The Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain warrants based on probable cause. But courts have made an exception for searches at airports and U.S. ports of entry, finding that the government can conduct warrantless border searches to protect national security, prevent transnational crime and enforce immigration and customs laws.

The American Civil Liberties had urged the 4th Circuit to find that the government should be required to obtain a warrant or at least a determination of probable cause that evidence of a crime is contained on electronic devices before agents can search them at airports.

The 4th Circuit said it did not have to reach the question of whether probable cause or a warrant is required. Reasonable suspicion is a lower legal standard.

Claire Gastanaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said the group is pleased that the appeals court “recognized correctly that border agents can’t conduct invasive searches on a traveler’s cell phone or other electronic devices just because the person is crossing the border.”

Last year, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit claiming warrantless border searches are unconstitutional because of the vast amount of private personal and business information stored on electronic devices.


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Palo Alto Turns to Cameras to Keep Watchful Eye on Railroad

Palo Alto is turning to technology in hopes of preventing people from attempting to stand in front of or jump in front of trains traveling through the Peninsula city.

The city has installed thermal imaging-equipped video cameras designed to keep an eye out for people standing or hanging around the tracks at four railroad crossings within city limits.

While the video cameras have already been put in place, the city is still conducting rounds of testing before making the cameras fully operational later this month.

Palo Alto has hired a company to watch the camera feeds from an off-site location and call law enforcement if they spot anything unusual. Those monitoring the camera feeds can also speak via a public address system to alert someone on the tracks that help is on the way.

The Peninsula city has been paying security guards to scan the railroad crossings since about 2009 after a number of teenagers committed suicide on the tracks.

Unlike the human eye, the cameras are able to scan for movement roughly 1,000 feet away from where they are located along the tracks. The cameras can also capture movement when its dark, raining or foggy.

“We’re hoping that not only will this provide better monitoring, the ability to see much better down the tracks than the human eye, but also in the long run to provide faster notification to law enforcement and be more cost effective,” Claudia Keith with the city of Palo Alto said.

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Armed Guards in Bloomfield Elementary Schools Causes Controversy

A recently-formed group, Bloomfield Parents for Sensible Safety, came together after learning of the proposed  placement of nine armed guards (Class III police officers) at the entrances to the township’s elementary schools, to be funded by a $550k line in the school budget.

The group has created a petition urging the BOE to explore other security methods rather than placing armed guards in the elementary schools. The petition has garnered over 240 signatures to date.

Several residents spoke during public comment at the May 24th Board of Education meeting regarding the issue.

They had quite a wait to speak their piece, as public comment was only opened after a two-hour training presentation by Charlene Peterson of the New Jersey School Boards Association. Peterson took the Board through an ethics presentation, as well as a training session on how to use a new online tool to evaluate the Superintendent and a summary of the strategic planning process for the year.

The Board agreed to utilize the new, more intuitive tool for the upcoming evaluation of Superintendent Sal Goncalves’ performance, after he expressed willingness for them to use the new tool rather than the previous version.

During public comment, Mike Heller spoke first, emphasizing the importance of Board members holding themselves to a high standard and thanked the Superintendent for agreeing to being evaluated with the new online tool. He then provided a list of subjects to be addressed in future planning, including redistricting, class sizes, communications, alumni networks to track students, soliciting community input, and more.

Nahum Prasarn said he was disturbed after recently moving to the section of town served by the Oak View Elementary School, to learn that the Board intends to bring in armed guards to the school his children will be attending.

“I am a public middle school teacher in Montclair,” he said. “They are putting security measures in, not guards.” He recommended focusing on student health, identifying at-risk children, and anti-bullying programs.

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