Japanese media giant Nikkei says $29 million lost in BEC scam

This scam comes months after the FBI said international victims lost $29 billion through the same technique.

Scammers fleeced the publishing conglomerate Nikkei out of $29 million by impersonating an executive at the international firm.

Nikkei America, the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese company, said on Oct. 30 that one of its employees transferred the funds, equivalent to roughly 3.2 billion Japanese yen, “based on fraudulent instructions by a malicious third party” posing as a corporate boss. It’s the latest high profile business email compromise attack carried out by fraudsters who exploit employees’ inherent trust in other people in their organization.

The company didn’t provide any specific details, saying only that it quickly realized it had been defrauded, and that the firm had notified law enforcement in the U.S. and Hong Kong. (Hackers frequently divert stolen money to accounts based in Hong Kong.)

“We are investigating and verifying the details of the facts and causes of this incident,” Nikkei said in a statement. The company publishes the Nikkei 225 stock index, which tracks the Tokyo Stock Exchange.


Business email compromise scams, which occur when thieves pose as co-workers, bosses, romantic partners or other trusted friends, cost U.S. and international victims $29 billion between June 2016 and July of this year, the FBI previously reported. That figure almost certainly is smaller than the true total, due to lingering hesitation in the private sector about whether to report attacks.

Founded in 1876, Nikkei Inc. is a media brand known for its coverage throughout Asia. It employs some 1,500 journalists worldwide and operates 37 foreign editorial bureaus. Nikkei acquired the Financial Times in 2015 for $1.3 billion.

Scammers have identified international financial transactions as an opportunity to siphon off millions of dollars. Suspected North Korean hackers stole some $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank in 2016 by abusing access to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication to capture funds.

In an unrelated case, in 2008, Lehman Brothers sued the Japanese trading firm Marubeni after a $352 million scam involving forged documents and an imposter at Marubeni’s offices.

Jeff Stone

Written by Jeff Stone

Jeff Stone is the editor-in-chief of CyberScoop, with a special interest in cybercrime, disinformation and the U.S. justice system. He previously worked as an editor at the Wall Street Journal, and covered technology policy for sites including the Christian Science Monitor and the International Business Times.

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