The FBI says there's been a 'dramatic rise' in an email scam that has stolen more than $2.3 billion

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How to Spot an Email Scam (And Fall For One)

The FBI says an email scam in which criminals impersonate a company's CEO and ask for a money transfer has seen a "dramatic increase," The Register reports.

Here's how it works: A company receives an email that looks as if it came from the CEO. The email typically instructs someone who manages the company's money to send a payment to a certain bank account or provide login information to the company's payroll system.

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But the email isn't genuine, and it often comes from a fraudulent domain that looks very similar to the legitimate company website. The bank account the money is sent to isn't a legitimate customer; it's an account owned by scammers. Fraudsters have also made away with payroll information about hundreds of employees using this technique.

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The FBI says there's been a 'dramatic rise' in an email scam that has stolen more than $2.3 billion
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The FBI has published a security alert warning businesses in the U.S. about the email scam. It says police officials around the world have heard of the scam, and it has been reported in 79 countries. The alert says that from October 2013 to February, the FBI was made aware of $2.3 billion (£1.6 billion) in money lost because of the email scam.

The real cost of the scam is likely to be higher, though, as it's unlikely that every payment was noticed or reported.

Some big tech companies have been targeted as part of this scam. Snapchat acknowledged in February that one of its employees had accidentally revealed payroll information after being tricked by an email claiming to have been sent by CEO Evan Spiegel. The data-storage company Seagate fell victim to the scam in March. Fast Company's publisher, Mansueto Ventures, was tricked into handing over data as well.

The email scam isn't limited to the US. Business Insider reported in August that about 10 well-funded London startups had received emails impersonating CEOs.

Here's an example of one of the emails that was sent to a London startup:

email scam alert

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