As stealthy as sewer rats, a group of unknown criminals hacked their way into the Bangladesh Central Bank.
Masquerading as the institution, they requested the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve to transfer close to $1 billion to private bank accounts in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
By the time that the people who should have noticed, noticed, $101 million had gone, mostly to the dodgy casinos of the Philippines. Astonishingly, in this day and age, these dives are apparently exempt from national and international money laundering rules and regulations.
It could have been worse. Staff at the central bank in Sri Lanka blocked one transfer of $20 million because they considered it odd that a central bank would make payments to a private account. Odd? Flashing red light and loud alarm bell odd, surely. And one has to wonder which bright spark at the Fed failed to do the same.
Staff at Deutsche Bank did even better though.
An eagle-eyed cashier noticed a payment to a ‘fundation’, questioned the missing‘o’ and thus prevented the massive fraud from going any further.
Never, I suspect, has a single vowel proved to be so valuable. Pedants clearly can prevent the loss of considerable amounts of money when their special talents are used rather than abused.
Of course the actual crime is not an isolated incident.
Criminal gangs from kleptocracies and other dodgy countries make a comfortable living by hacking into bank email accounts to send fraudulent instructions to transfer large sums. Because banks tend to be embarrassed at the ease and frequency of these events, they tend to keep quiet and avoid communicating them beyond their own walls.
According to Kaspersky Lab, a cyber-security firm, in 2015 alone over $1 billion was stolen from financial institutions in this way.
I wonder whether a more reliable means of communication could help; person-to-person telephone calls anyone?
This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 5 April