BBB Business Tip: Avoid Whaling and CEO Impersonation Scams

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Phishing scams have been around for years and malicious emails haven't changed a lot, but the end target has. As surfers and skiers say, "go big or go home," and that's exactly what scammers are doing.

Phishing scams have been around for years and malicious emails haven't changed a lot, but the end target has. As surfers and skiers say, "go big or go home," and that's exactly what scammers are doing.

By targeting lower-level employees, scammers can gain general access to a business's inner workings. But by targeting high level executives -- the “big fish” -- scammers can gain complete top down access to all of a business’s operations.

These attacks on management are sometimes called whaling, in reference to the “big fish” targets. The goal is to steal sensitive information such as financial data or personal details about employees. Whaling attacks specifically target senior management who have complete access to sensitive data.

“We believe there has been a recent uptick in whaling scams aimed at businesses, and we want to warn companies to alert their employees about this potential fraud,” says Katherine Hutt, BBB national spokesperson.

A related scam is the CEO impersonation scam, where the con artist reaches out to high-level employees who can pay a large bill or provide wide-sweeping information. The scammer pretends to be the CEO or CFO to give the request legitimacy and urgency. The request will often be for a large money transfer via wire, which is non-recoverable. Scammers can often make their requests more plausible by using details gotten by researching the company or hacking emails.

Read more about how to prevent and prepare for potential whaling attacks:

In the U.S.: us.BBB.org/whaling
In Canada: ca.BBB.org/whaling

If you get a call from a scammer, report it to BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker). This free resource provides a place to research and submit scam-related information so BBB can investigate further and educate consumers.

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Katherine Hutt
Council of Better Business Bureaus
+1 (703) 247-9345
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