Highlighting the continued problems faced by policyholders in obtaining coverage for “computer fraud,” a Michigan district court recently held that a manufacturer could not recover $800,000 in funds lost after an employee mistakenly wired payment for legitimate vendor invoices into a fraudster’s bank account after receiving a spoofed e-mail requesting payment. In American Tooling Center, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America, No. 16-12108 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 1, 2017), the district court applied state law favoring a narrow interpretation of the crime policy’s computer fraud provision to hold that the policyholder had not suffered a “direct” loss that was “directly caused” by the use of any computer.
Hunton & Williams insurance practice head Walter Andrews commented in a July 25, 2017, Law360 article concerning a New York federal court’s recent decision in Medidata Solutions, Inc. v. Federal Ins. Co., where the court found coverage for a $4.8 million “social engineering” loss that occurred after Medidata received fraudulent emails that caused accounting personnel to wire funds to a fake bank account in China. The decision, which was the subject of a July 24, 2017, Hunton blog post, focused on two main issues: (1) whether the fraudulent emails amounted to an infiltration of the bank’s computer systems; and (2) whether the fact that Medidata employees voluntarily initiated the funds transfer mattered under the terms of Medidata’s commercial crime insurance policy. Andrews succinctly addressed both issues, stating that “an employee being duped into transferring funds via email is functionally the same as the funds being stolen outright.” With the latter being unquestionably covered, so too should the former.
A federal judge in New York awarded summary judgment on Friday in favor of Medidata Solutions, Inc., finding that Medidata’s $4.8 million loss suffered after Medidata was tricked into wiring funds to a fraudulent overseas account, triggered coverage under a commercial crime policy’s computer fraud provision and funds transfer fraud provision. The award comes after District Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr., ruled in March 2016 that additional expert discovery was needed concerning the manner in which the fraudsters manipulated Medidata’s computer systems.
The lawsuit, discussed in an August 18, 2016, Hunton & Williams blog post, arose after employees in Medidata’s finance department were deceived into transferring $4.8 million to a Chinese bank account based on emails that falsely appeared to come from a Medidata executive. Federal Insurance Company, a unit of Chubb Corp., insured Medidata under a policy providing coverage for, among other things, computer fraud, forgery and funds transfer fraud. Federal argued that Medidata’s claim was not covered because, among other things, there was no manipulation of Medidata’s computers and Medidata “voluntarily” transferred the funds.
In a case filed in California last week, an insurer once again has taken the position that funds disbursed to computer hackers because of fraudulent commands received via e-mail from hackers are somehow distinguishable from the hacker misappropriating the funds directly. They are not. The typical scheme, via social engineering commonly known as “business e-mail compromise” or “CEO fraud,” involves an e-mail from a high-level executive’s e-mail account directing a subordinate employee to wire funds to a bank account actually owned by a third-party scammer, the true author of the email. Insurers have denied coverage for such liabilities, contending that their policies do not cover voluntary disbursements of company funds – as if the insureds intended to give their funds away to the bad guys!