Scammers know you might ignore an email from a stranger, but they're pretty sure you'll open one from your boss.

And when you do, the scam artists get to work.

The Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) hosted a news conference on the results of their new study, called "Is That Email Really From 'The Boss?'" and they pointed out that business email compromise scams are skyrocketing in frequency and have cost businesses and other organizations more than $3 billion since 2016.

So, what exactly is a Business Email Compromise Scam (BEC)?

BBB:

BEC fraud takes many forms, but in essence, the scammer poses as a reliable source who sends an email from a spoofed or hacked account to an accountant or chief financial officer (CFO), asking them to wire money, buy gift cards or send personal information, often for a plausible reason. If money is sent, it goes into an account controlled by the con artist.

The FBI recognizes at least six types of activity as BEC or email account compromise (EAC) fraud, which differ based on who appears to be the email sender – a chief executive officer (CEO) asking the CFO to wire money to someone, a vendor or supplier requesting a change in invoice payment, executives requesting copies of employee tax information, senior employees seeking to have their pay deposited into a new bank account, an employer or clergyman asking the recipient to buy gift cards on their behalf, even a realtor or title company redirecting proceeds from a real estate sale into a new account. These targeted email phishing scams are sometimes called “spear phishing.”

This serious and growing fraud has tripled over the last three years, jumping 50% in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. In 2018, 80% of businesses received at least one of these emails. From 2016 through May 2019, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 58,571 complaints on BEC fraud, with reported losses in the U.S. totaling $3.1 billion. BBB’s report finds that the average BEC loss involving wire transfers is $35,000, while the average loss involving gift cards is $1,000 to $2,000. However, the cost to businesses can be much higher: Google and Facebook lost more than $100 million to BEC fraud before the perpetrator was arrested in 2017.