Commercial E-newsletter

Business Email Compromise

Compromising Positions. As business email fraud is on the rise, companies need to be more vigilant.

With so many responsibilities demanding their attention, executives can be forgiven for putting off non-essential jobs like replacing the office carpet. But ignoring threats posed by Internet fraud? That can come with a high price.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recently warned of the Business Email Compromise (BEC), a sophisticated Internet scam targeting businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments and may work with foreign suppliers. According to the FBI, scammers believed to be members of organized crime groups from Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East compromise actual business email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques.

They succeed in gaining access to legitimate email accounts, learn how you conduct financial transactions, then begin to initiate legitimate-looking emails with wire instructions. The emails will look authentic to the receiver. However, instead of directing a payment to a trusted supplier, they send it to their own (the criminals’) accounts.

The federal government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received BEC complaints from victims in every U.S. state and 45 countries. From October 2013 to December 2014, 1,198 victims in the U.S. lost more than $179 million to this scheme.

The FBI reports a 270 percent increase in identified BEC victims since the beginning of 2015 alone. Banks in China and Hong Kong are the most commonly reported destinations for these fraudulent transfers.

“We continue to see businesses fall victim to this scam and often subject themselves to substantial financial losses,” says Comerica’s Financial Intelligence Department Director Susan Joseph. BEC scams typically take the three following forms, she says, though she warns that new variations continue to surface.

  1. A business, which often has a longstanding relationship with a supplier, is asked to wire funds for invoice payment to an alternate, fraudulent account. The request may be made via telephone, fax, or email. Email requests often look similar to a legitimate account and require close scrutiny to determine their legitimacy.
  2. Email accounts of high-level executives are compromised by “spoofing” or “phishing,” which attempts to make the users believe that they are receiving an email from a specific, trusted source, or that they are securely connected to a trusted website. A request for a wire transfer from the compromised account is made to a second company employee who might normally process such requests. In some instances, a wire transfer request from the compromised account is sent directly to the financial institution with urgent instructions to send funds.
  3. An employee’s personal email is hacked. Requests for payments to fraudster-controlled bank accounts are then sent from the hacked account to multiple vendors in the employee’s contact list. The business may not become aware of these fraudulent requests until it is contacted by a vendor that is following up on its invoice payment.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is for CEOs to establish training and procedures to identify the telltale signs of Internet fraud, and BEC scams in particular, and to make sure that all employees — especially those who deal with financial matters — follow those procedures,” Joseph says.

She suggests that all employees verify significant transactions, especially when wiring money, and contact the intended recipient by telephone or alternate email to confirm the legitimacy of the request. The government’s IC3 offers the following tips to protect businesses from becoming victims of a BEC scam.

  • Do not use the “Reply” option when responding to business emails. Instead, “Forward” the email and either manually type the correct email address or select it from the address book to ensure the intended recipient’s correct email address is used.
  • Be suspicious of requests for secrecy or pressure to take immediate action. Often the fraudster will use these tactics in an effort to get you to process the transaction without performing proper due diligence.
  • Beware of sudden changes in business practices. For example, if a business contact suddenly asks to be contacted via their personal email address when all previous correspondence has been on a company email, the request could be a fake.
  • Immediately delete unsolicited email, or spam, from unknown parties. Do not open spam emails, click on links in the email, or open attachments. These often contain malware that will give scammers access to your computer system.
  • Verify changes in vendor payment location by adding additional two-factor authentication such as having a secondary sign-off by company personnel.
  • Minimize posts to social media and company websites, especially those that may include job duties or descriptions, hierarchical information, and out-of-office details.
  • Free web-based email might be fine for personal use, but businesses should establish a company website domain and corresponding email system.

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Comerica Bank. Member FDIC. Equal Opportunity Lender.

This material has been distributed for general educational/informational purposes only, and should not be considered as accounting, tax or legal advice or recommendations by Comerica Bank, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

Hiring the Best People

Part 1: Raising the Talent Bar
Take a proactive approach to identify the best candidates.

Employers typically rely on a list of specific skills and required experience to identify the best candidates when hiring. But that practice may not yield the best results.

Some advisors believe that companies should consider alternative, more innovative approaches instead.

“Steve Jobs once said the most important thing he did was hire great people. He called himself the recruiter-in-chief,” says Lou Adler, founder and CEO of the Adler Group, a training and consulting firm in Irvine, Calif. “That’s got to be the core strategy: raise the talent bar and hire the best people. Yet many CEOs give it lip service.”

One of the best ways to attract top talent is to offer personal and professional development and to appeal to an individual’s natural desire to contribute to a greater good. Adler says the best people are drawn to new jobs based on what they’ll be doing, learning, becoming, and who they’ll be doing it with. Similarly, a candidate is more likely to be attracted to a prospective employer if he or she knows the importance of the job and long-term impact they can make.

Adler cautions companies against assuming the best people are applying for a job.

“Ninety-two percent of the best people find their jobs through some referral or they’ve been recruited,” he says. “If you don’t have a great employee value proposition, referrals or great recruiters won’t help much. In that case, you need to accept the fact that you’ll only be hiring the best of the people who applied — not the best available.”

Performance-Based Hiring

Adler is a proponent of performance-based hiring, which makes a case against using traditional skill- and experience-based job descriptions.

“You hire people based on the way you promote them — on their track record of performance doing comparable work,” he says. “Skills and experience do not determine ability. A person might have the skills, but that doesn’t mean they can thrive in that job.

“Put the personal bio aside and define the work first. Then find the people who are motivated and competent to do that work and I guarantee they’ll have exactly the skills you want. That’s the paradigm shift that needs to be taken to hire and retain better people and to have them perform at peak levels.”

Once the work is defined, how do you find the best people?

“LinkedIn is invaluable,” Adler says.

Next, tap into personal and professional networks.

“The position must be advertised in such a way as to compel candidates to see it as intrinsically motivating and to be willing to engage in a conversation about it,” Adler says. “Ask them to send an example of a similar project that they’ve worked on. Find out where they’ve gone the extra mile, what kind of work they really like to do.

“Don’t ask for a resume; request a half-page write-up. I call it a track record of comparable results.”

Adler recommends focusing on the 80 percent of job seekers who are changing for long-term, career reasons and not the 20 percent who are looking to relieve what he calls short-term pain — the need to make more money or to escape a bad boss or dead-end job.

“If you take the job primarily for economic reasons, the likelihood that you’re going to be motivated to do the work is problematic,” he says. “Now I have to have an intervention program to increase retention.”

Beyond Money

Once a conversation with a prospect has been initiated, the hiring manager must know if the job represents a career move. Not every job switch is a career move; to really get a candidate’s attention, something more than money is at stake. Adler describes it as a 30 percent non-monetary increase. If the job appeals to the candidate’s drive and ambition and offers 30 percent more stretch (responsibility), growth (business is booming), and mix (more motivating work), a more serious discussion is warranted.

“You may not be able to offer a candidate a VP post,” Adler says, “but if I can give him or her a job that they find intrinsically motivating and is personally satisfying, it’s going to be the best career move they can possibly make.”

Comerica Bank. Member FDIC. Equal Opportunity Lender.

This material has been distributed for general educational/informational purposes only, and should not be considered as accounting, tax or legal advice or recommendations by Comerica Bank, its affiliates or subsidiaries. 

Retaining Top Talent

Part 2: Build Loyalty — Retain Employees
Proactive organizations know it’s about more than money.

Layoffs and the plight of the unemployed generate headlines from Washington, D.C., to Wall Street and beyond. Yet the number of employees who voluntarily quit their jobs is an underreported story — and significant to middle market executives who need to retain the best and brightest talent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, voluntary job resignations in the private sector have increased since their low in September 2009, reaching 2.8 million in November 2015. Nearing prerecession levels, the numbers are generally considered to be a sign of confidence among U.S. workers.

“We are experiencing high job turnover today,” says Susan Heathfield, a Michigan-based human resources consultant and writer at “This is partly because the workforce is becoming largely millennials who lack the loyalty and sense of building a career in one company that earlier generations had.

“They are much more likely to think of a job as something they do to make money between weekends.”

While 42 percent of millennials are looking for jobs with other companies, according to, they are not alone. Thirty-eight percent of Gen X’ers and 22 percent of baby boomers are also in the hunt.  

Connected, Respected

What steps should a company take to retain valuable employees? Heathfield offers some suggestions.

“The most important thing in retaining employees is the relationship they have with their boss,” she says. “People have a tendency to leave managers before they leave companies or jobs.

“The relationship with the boss has to be one of respect. Employees need to feel that they’re members of the ‘in’ crowd that gets all the information everyone else gets. The boss needs to allow them to make decisions about their jobs and how they do their work.”

When bosses let employees become fully engaged in their jobs — to enjoy the work and understand how they contribute to the success of the organization — employees are more likely to stick around and to contribute to the company’s success. The Harvard Business Review, quoting a Gallup Organization analysis of 1.4 million employees, reported in 2013 that employers with a high level of worker engagement report 22 percent higher productivity.

“Of course, paying market wages with excellent benefits is also critical to retaining employees,” Heathfield says. “With the arrival of the Internet, it’s gotten easier than ever before to know competitive wages.”

She recommends using sites like to check out the going rates in various regions and industries.

Benefits Matter, Too

Heathfield says the benefit most valued by employees, especially those with families, is health care. That’s followed by workplace flexibility that doesn’t tie them down to a 9-to-5 schedule and the option to telecommute.  

Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a company that helps employers find candidates for remote or telecommuting roles, agrees that job flexibility is a concept whose time has come.

“The depth and variety of companies that are integrating telecommuting options in their workforce is growing daily, including the middle market,” she says. “We’ve seen different career categories, from project management to quality control and from food and beverage to call centers, all have work-from-home ability. We’ve seen remote neurosurgeons and golf instructors.

“Telecommuting and flexible schedules don’t have much of a price tag associated for employers. They can be implemented with very little cost and very good return in terms of increased employee happiness and productivity.”

Following the Leaders

Not surprisingly, a track record of success and leadership are crucial to attracting and retaining good employees. Employees must believe their organization knows where it wants to go and has the leadership to make it happen. Just as a coach can inspire his players to reach new heights, a successful executive who can articulate his or her vision will attract followers who want to be part of a winning team.

“I absolutely believe in going through the due diligence to educate my team members in my thoughts behind what we do and why,” says Sutton Fell. “As opposed to just being a taskmaster, I believe in giving them more of a thought process and learning if they have ideas and incorporating them in the whole experience.”

Heathfield says it’s vital for the CEO to regularly communicate company information, including financials “so that they feel part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”

She adds, “An understanding of the entire organization also gives them the chance to look at career options that can expand their capabilities and fulfillment.”

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Comerica Bank. Member FDIC. Equal Opportunity Lender.

This material has been distributed for general educational/informational purposes only, and should not be considered as accounting, tax or legal advice or recommendations by Comerica Bank, its affiliates or subsidiaries.