United States grocer falls prey to US$10 million wire fraud scam

By Rebecca Boone, AP

BOISE, Idaho — Supervalu, one of the largest U.S. grocers, has fallen prey to an e-mail scam, losing about US$10 million (euro7 million) after wiring money to fraudulent bank accounts, according to federal court filings.

The scam is detailed in a pair of forfeiture cases filed under seal earlier this year in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

The fraud began after the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based supermarket received two e-mails — one from someone purporting to be an American Greetings Corp. employee and another claiming to be with Frito-Lay, according to court documents. Both e-mails claimed the companies wanted payments sent to new bank account numbers. Supervalu sent more than US$6.5 million (euro4.55 million) to the phony American Greetings account and nearly US$3.6 million (euro2.52 million) to the phony Frito-Lay account before realizing it was all a scam. The FBI was able to capture the money before it was whisked away by the scammers, but now American Greetings, Frito-Lay and Supervalu have all laid claim to the money and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill will decide where it should go. “Supervalu was the target of attempted financial fraud,” company spokeswoman Haley Meyer wrote in a prepared statement. “We were able to quickly discover and report this to the FBI. As a result of the quick work of the Boise FBI Office and the U.S. Attorney, any funds lost are minimal.”

Supervalu, which bought most of the Boise-headquartered Albertsons grocery store chain last year, declined any immediate further comment.

Megan Ferington, a spokeswoman for American Greetings, based in Cleveland, could not comment on the case because it is currently under litigation. Officials with the FBI did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.

Aurora Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay, said the company was “working closely with our customer, Supervalu, and our attorneys on this matter.” Gonzalez said she could not comment further at this time.

American Greetings produces some gift wrap, greeting cards and other party goods sold in Supervalu stores. Frito-Lay, a unit of Purchase, New York-based PepsiCo Inc., makes several foods sold by the grocery chain.

According to documents filed in the two forfeiture cases, Supervalu first began wiring payments due to American Greetings into the wrong account on February 28, making a total of nine payments before catching the error on March 6. During that time, more than US$6.5 million (euro4.55 million) was wired to HSBC Bank in Miami Beach, Florida, to accounts opened under the names Society Nights Productions, doing business as Perini.

Meanwhile, another US$500,000 (euro350,000) was wired into the same account by another victim listed only as “ROHM” in the court documents, as well as money from some foreign bank accounts.

After apparently receiving another e-mail purporting to be from Frito-Lay, the grocer sent nearly US$3.6 million (euro2.5 million) in payments that were supposed to go to Frito-Lay to a phony account in Arkansas, according to the court documents.

In an affidavit, Supervalu’s vice president for legal services, Stephen Kilgriff, said the company received that e-mail on Feb. 28, saying that future wire transfers to the company should be sent to a First Security Bank account in Rogers, Arkansas. That fraud was also discovered on March 6, when the company called police, Kilgriff said.

Criminal charges have not yet been filed in the case.