Saudi Aramco said that it foiled a fraud attempt involving scammers pretending to work for India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC).
“The attempted fraud has been foiled and did not have any financial impact on either the two companies or on trading relations between them,” Saudi Aramco said in a statement emailed to Arab News.
The statement follows a report in the Indian Express that claimed that cyber criminals had duped Saudi Aramco into making a payment of 1.97 billion rupees ($30.3 million) for an order of naphtha from ONGC into their own bank account.
The cyber criminals duplicated the public sector firm’s official email address with minor changes and used it to convince Saudi Aramco to transfer payments to their account.
The fraud was committed on the assumption that Saudi Aramco would not notice a minor change in the email address of the ONGC representative, with whom they had been communicating. While ONGC communicated with the company from [email protected], the fraudsters duped the company by communicating with them from [email protected].
According to Mumbai cyber police team probing the case, ONGC had an order to deliver 36,000 metric tons of naphtha — flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixtures — to Saudi Aramco.
On Sept. 7, ONGC dispatched the order worth 1.15 billion Indian rupees from Hazira port in Surat. According to the police, the company usually transferred payments to ONGC’s State Bank of India (SBI) account, but did not do so this time.
“ONGC was to send a second batch of naphtha to Saudi Aramco on Sept. 22. However, since they had not received the earlier payment, they inquired with Saudi Aramco,” an officer said. On being told that the delay was on account of public holidays and bank holidays, ONGC dispatched the second batch of naphtha worth 970 million Indian rupees on Sept. 22. Again, ONGC emailed a scanned copy of the tax invoice with its SBI account number to the Saudi company.
Again, no payments were received in the ONGC account. What finally set alarm bells ringing was an email ONGC received on Oct. 7 from Saudi Aramco saying that the money had been transferred to a new account. When ONGC contacted Saudi Aramco, they were told that the company had merely followed up on ONGC’s request to deposit the money into an account in Bangkok Bank Public Company Limited. “ONGC had never made such a request,” the officer said.
During investigations, police found that someone aware of the email communication between ONGC and Saudi Aramco regarding the transfer of a large sum of money had created an email ID similar to an official ONGC email ID.
“The communication from ONGC was done using the email ID [email protected]. The fraudsters merely created an email address [email protected],” said senior police inspector S. Mahadik.
Using this ID, the fraudsters began to communicate with Saudi Aramco, and as the second email ID appeared almost identical to the original, Saudi Aramco officials did not notice the difference.
The fraudsters then sent an email asking for the payment to be deposited to the Bangkok-based account.
Indian police have registered cases of cheating, forgery, identity theft and impersonation.
Saudi Aramco’s statement that the fraud attempt did not financially affect any of the two companies or their commercial relations suggests that remedial measures were taken to cancel the deposit into the fake account.