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Plot by hackers to cheat Singaporean firm of US$75,000 foiled by bank

Scammers simply added an extra letter to an actual client’s email address to issue a US$75,000 purchase order, with the cash transferred to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 12:25pm

By Alfred Chua

Were it not for the intervention of United Overseas Bank (UOB), Mr Muralidaran Naidu’s company would have been fleeced of US$75,000 by hackers last year.

The scammers had infiltrated his company’s email server sometime in November 2015 and “intercepted” emails. Posing as the company’s client, a Myanmar firm, they began communicating with Mr Muralidaran, his company’s chairman and the finance team.

Mr Muralidaran, who is the business development director, declined to reveal the name of his company and the nature of its business.

He and his colleagues did not realise the scammers had added an extra letter to their actual customer’s email address.

His chairman approved a US$75,000 purchase order issued by the hackers, and the money was transferred to Hong Kong via UOB between January and February last year.

Subsequent communication with the actual customer revealed that no such order had been made. By the time he realised his company had been scammed, the money had been transferred for a week.

Thankfully, UOB’s internal policies did not allow the money to be moved to the scammers’ account, as the address provided was “ambiguous” and did not even exist.

It took another three weeks for the US$75,000 to be returned to Mr Muralidaran’s company. Speaking to reporters, he said it was the first such an incident in the company’s 31-year history.

The Myanmar customer, however, had previously lost some S$300,000 (US$221,434) to hackers, and had cautioned Mr Muralidaran’s company to be on guard.

“It just took (an extra letter). Due diligence on our part (had) failed,” he said.

Email impersonation scams, which affect companies that correspond with other companies via email to transact and transfer funds, were flagged by the Singaporean police in the release of mid-year crime statistics.

There were 160 such cases in the first half of this year, an increase of about 29 per cent from the same period last year.

The total amount that was swindled also grew by 25.9 per cent, from S$17.4 million (US$12.84 million) in the first half of last year to S$21.9 million (US$16.16 million) this year.

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