It’s a place like no other.

South Florida is defined by beautiful beaches, an international culture and endless opportunities for locally-based businesses to reach a global clientele.

But given its distinction as a major center of commerce, South Florida also has a challenge – the same as other major cities across the world. That challenge is protecting those companies from cybercriminals who try to capitalize on their growth.

According to the 2019 Cybercrime Report by Cybersecurity Ventures, the global cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $6 Trillion by 2021, which, the report says, “represents the largest transfer of economic wealth in history, risks the incentives for innovation and investment and will be more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.”

Fortunately for South Florida – and other major cities – highly-trained law enforcement officers and banks like Regions are constantly working together to fight back against threats posed by fraud. And recently, Regions leaders and a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service’s Miami Field Office held a fraud-prevention forum with the South Florida Business Journal to raise awareness.

“Companies in South Florida should be extra vigilant because fraud moves through this area faster than anywhere else,” said Tony Stiffler, Florida Commercial Banking Executive for Regions Bank. “There is a lot going on here, but we are working hand-in-hand with law enforcement to stay ahead of fraud trends. One fraud loss can close a business.”

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Chris Cropanese affirmed how relationships between banks and law enforcement are critical in cracking down on cybercriminals operating within the payments system.

“We routinely work with financial institutions when fraud is suspected in clients’ accounts,” he said. “We cross reference the information we receive to other fraud investigations to support additional leads on cases. Most often, thanks to the great partnerships we have with financial institutions, like Regions, we can solve a case and bring a fraudster to justice.”

According to data from the 2019 Cybercrime Report by Cybersecurity Ventures, the global cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $6 Trillion by 2021.

When fraud is detected, Regions alerts law enforcement and works with business owners to identify how the fraud occurred. It could be a business email compromise, where an employee clicks on a link that provides a fraudster access to business accounts. It could be a fraudulent wire transfer that sends money to a bad guy instead of a legitimate vendor. Or, it may be an inside job by an employee who has fallen on hard times.

Beth Purdie, Senior Field Investigator with Regions Corporate Security, said working closely with law enforcement makes a significant difference in her ability to resolve fraud claims.

“We do our part to help law enforcement solve cases of both traditional and cyber fraud. From collecting evidence and speaking with our bankers, we know our clients and their business account behaviors. If we see something suspicious, we are proactive to try and stop the fraudulent behavior and help law enforcement find the criminal,” she said.

Senior Field Investigator with Regions Corporate Security Beth Purdie

Senior Field Investigator Beth Purdie with Regions Corporate Security says if a business becomes a victim of cyber fraud, one way to stop fraud is through a wire transfer recall. “It isn’t a guarantee that fraudulent funds can be recovered, but it may be a solution if fraud is spotted in time,” she said. So time is always of the essence. Frequent account monitoring is recommended.

The skill and determination of people like Purdie, and her law enforcement colleagues, are crucial. Fraud stretches across virtually all business sectors.

“Fraud doesn’t discriminate. It impacts people of all races, backgrounds, age, etc.,” Cropanese said. “The same holds true for companies. Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies and the guy selling hot dogs on the corner of any city street can be impacted by fraud. We value all of the help we can get with our fraud investigations.”

Entities frequently targeted for fraud include:

– Hospitals

– Boards of Education

– Municipalities

– Public Utility Systems (Water, Power, Gas, Cable, etc.)

Marc Mullins, Executive Vice President and Head of Treasury Management for Regions Bank, added that he has seen hospitals, boards of education, municipalities and public utility systems among the top entities that are frequently targeted.

“The most sensitive cases of cyber fraud are when a company gets hit for assets that contain consumer information. It tears at the confidence fiber of our society,” Mullins said.

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Chris Cropanese, left, speaks regularly with Beth Purdie about fraud issues across South Florida.

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Chris Cropanese, left, speaks regularly with Beth Purdie about fraud issues across South Florida.

Kelley Brown-Murro, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach Market Executive for Regions, said that by hosting seminars like the recent discussion in South Florida, Regions is proactively alerting business and consumer groups – while also sharing strategies that can help them avoid losses. The goal is not to create fear. Rather, it’s to increase vigilance.

Because, when it comes to stopping fraud, there is, indeed, strength in numbers.

“Regions is on the front lines in the fight against fraud,” Brown-Murro said. “We have processes and protections in place to help our business clients spot and prevent fraud and keep their operations moving forward. Thanks to the relationship we have built with law enforcement here in South Florida and beyond, we are making a difference. This is a constant focus for all of us.”