February 8, 2010 | The Wall Street Journal

Cybercriminals have found a rich, new hunting ground: small businesses’ bank accounts.

Just ask Sign Designs Inc., an electric-sign maker in Modesto, Calif. The first sign of trouble was a morning phone call from Bank of Stockton, Sign Design’s community bank. It had just fielded a call from Chase Bank, whose anti-fraud team was questioning the legitimacy of a $9,670 electronic payment to a Chase customer in Michigan. Sign Designs confirmed it hadn’t set up the payment, and the banks halted the transaction.Checking its account online, Sign Designs quickly discovered the problem was much bigger: Almost $100,000 had been sent to 17 mystery people, all added as payees the previous day. Although Bank of Stockton immediately notified all the banks that had received funds, some $48,000 had already been picked up by “money mules,” people recruited to shuttle money for online-crime groups, typically in Eastern Europe.

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