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Fremantle Boss Victim Of $1M ‘CEO Fraud’

One of Fremantle‘s leading execs in Europe has become victim of a sophisticated $1M scam.

Jaime Ondarza, the Got Talent producer’s CEO in Southern Europe, was targeted by cyber criminals who posed as a senior Fremantle leader needing funds for a company acquisition in Asia.

According to the Corriere Della Sera newspaper, the scammers convinced Ondarza to transfer €937,670 ($1M) to an account in Asia, whose owner then scattered the money to dozens of other international accounts (IBANs), meaning the cash is almost impossible to trace.

The scam has become widespread in the business world. It is known as ‘CEO fraud‘ because it targets business leaders and C-suite individuals with access to large funds.

The fraud works by the criminal posing a senior leader within an organization and urging a colleague to urgently transfer money. They will use methods such as cloned Voip (voiceover IP) numbers that differ slightly from that of the actual colleague to gain trust before request an immediate transfer of monies.

Corriere Della Sera reported that once Ondarza had agreed to make the transfer, an email to a lawyer was sent to his inbox instructing which account the money should be paid into. With Fremantle having invested in Asian M&A recently, the payment was made.

Ondarza soon had doubts, realizing the request could have been a scam. He contacted other Fremantle execs and then called the Italian police after the fraud was confirmed. Police in Rome are now investigating.

A Fremantle spokesperson acknowledged the incident: “We are aware of an incident involving a local manager in southern Europe, who has been a victim of a cyber-crime, and we are working with the relevant authorities to resolve this matter.”

Ondarza has been with Fremantle since last year, joining from Paramount Global as CEO for Southern Europe and Israel, overseeing production operations in Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain. At Paramount, he had been EVP Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa and Head of Streaming for Southern EMEA and Latin America. Before that, he had spent most of his career in senior roles at Warner Bros Discovery (then WarnerMedia).

Earlier today, Fremantle confirmed it had acquired Asacha Media Group. The RTL-owned production and distribution giant has spent more than €200M ($216M) on Asacha and 80% of Singapore’s Beach House Pictures since the start of this year.

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