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Press Release

U.S. Attorney’s Office Uses Civil Forfeiture to Recover $95,325.29 for Fraud Victim

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Mississippi

Jackson, Miss. – On May 10, 2023, U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden entered Final Judgment of Forfeiture against $95,325.29 in U.S. Currency seized from a Merchant and Marine Bank Account, announced U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca.  According to the Verified Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Merchant and Marine Bank Account had been set up by a conspirator in a business email compromise scheme (BEC) to receive fraud proceeds.

A 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.  It causes employees of the victim company (or other individuals involved in legitimate business transactions with them) to transfer funds to accounts the scammers control.

The complaint was filed Feb. 27, 2023, alleging that on August 31, 2020, the victim’s husband received an email from the title company handling the couple’s closing on the purchase of a home.  This email was legitimate and contained accurate wiring instructions, but on September 1, 2020, the victim received a second email with false wiring instructions.  The spoofed email appeared to be from the couple’s title company and listed the account to which the funds were to be transferred as a Merchant and Marine Bank Account, which a conspirator had opened on August 31, 2020.

The victim followed the instructions in the fraudulent email and wired funds into the Merchant and Marine Bank Account.  On September 2, 2020, the victim realized the fraudulent email after receiving a call from the title company about the closing costs.  By that time, a conspirator had already sent a wire transfer, purchased a cashier’s check made payable to herself, and made a sizable cash withdrawal.

The victim’s husband contacted Merchant and Marine Bank, which froze the remaining funds in the account and placed a stop payment on the cashier’s check.  On March 20, 2023, the victim filed a claim in the civil forfeiture proceeding and filed a subsequent answer, in which she explained that she had been the victim of the fraud scheme.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office entered into a Stipulated Settlement Agreement with the victim and asked the Court to enter a Final Judgment ordering the return of the $95,325.29 to the victim and canceling the interests of any other person or entity.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation. The USAO Asset Recovery Unit team led by AUSA Clay B. Baldwin handled the matter.  The Government would like to thank Merchant & Marine Bank for its cooperation in this matter.

Business Email Compromise schemes can be prevented. Here are some tips:

• Independently obtain mortgage payoff statements and confirm with verified and trusted sources.

• Independently verify the authenticity of information included in correspondence and statements.

• Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on all email accounts.

• Routinely change passwords.

• Routinely monitor email account access, check for unauthorized email rules and forwarding settings.

• Restrict wire transfers to known and previously verified accounts.

• Pay using checks when the information cannot be independently verified.

• Have a clear and detailed Incident Response Plan.

For more information visit the Secret Service’s Preparing for a Cyber Incident page. To learn more about the Secret Service and efforts to combat Business Email Compromise fraud, please click here.

Updated May 12, 2023

Asset Forfeiture