The operation, funded and coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also included the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, along with many other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and worldwide, the Justice Department says.
They arrested 74 people nationwide, including 42 from the United States that were involved in an organization called BEC, Business Email Compromise. Federal authorities also seized almost $2.4 million, and they disrupted and recovered approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
Federal authorities allege the individuals impersonated employees or business executives after gaining access to their email accounts, better known as a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scheme.
The US department also said the same criminal organisations that perpetrate BEC - cyber-enabled financial fraud - also exploit individual victims, often real estate purchasers, the elderly, and others. BEC targets people who work with foreign suppliers and often utilize wire transfer payments, so receiving requests for money via email is not uncommon. "BEC and EAC is a prevalent scam, and the Justice Department, along with our partners, will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute the perpetrators, including money mules, regardless of where they are located", the statement notes. They then use the accounts to direct employees to transfer funds into bank accounts controlled by criminals.
The FBI said people have reported losing more than $3.7bn since it started tracking the issue through its Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Separate research by Proofpoint released in February claimed that by the end of 2017, almost 89% of all organizations studied were targeted by at least one BEC attack - a large jump from the 75% targeted in Q4 2016.
He adds: "Of course, with all of the losses and only $2.4 million recovered, you have to believe that this group was only a small part of the problem".