Last spring, in the chaos following the firing of Mattel's CEO (who presided over a disastrous slide in Barbie sales), a Mattel finance executive got an email from his new boss, replacement CEO Christopher Sinclair, ordering the transfer of $3 million to a new Chinese supplier.
She promptly wired the money to China's Bank of Wenzhou, confirming the transaction a few hours later with Sinclair, who said he'd sent no such email.
The FBI and their bank told them it was too late, the money had landed in China. The con, called the "Fake CEO scam," had been perfected on many smaller US businesses, but Mattel was the biggest target to date. The FBI says that China has become the new banker for global money laundering, and that money that disappears into its banks can never be recovered.
In a rare stroke of luck, though, Mattel was able to get its money back.
When the Bank of Wenzhou opened the following Monday, a China-based anti-fraud executive from Mattel strode past the sculpted lions that flank the entrance to the bank's headquarters, marched upstairs to the International Business Department and presented a letter from the FBI, according to two people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Chinese police froze the account that very morning. Two days later, on May 6, Mattel got its money back, according to the letter.
Mattel wrote that the Wenzhou police "showed a great sense of responsibility and enforcement capability."
"We hereby reiterate our appreciation," Mattel wrote. "We also hope that this case can pave the way for future international cooperation in fighting similar transnational crimes."