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Sequoia Capital, the 46-year-old venture firm that backed Apple and Google in their early days and has consistently produced top-performing funds, said someone sent a phishing email to one of its investors in an effort to steal money.
In an email this week to all of its limited partners, Sequoia said that the scheme involved the impersonation of official Sequoia communications and requested a "capital call be sent to a bank account in Mexico." A capital call occurs when an investment firm requests money that's been promised.
"This spoofed email is very convincing, as it mimics a legitimate Sequoia capital call notice in both form as well as substantive language and presentation," said the email, which was obtained by CNBC.
"It also comes from a very similar domain: seguoiacap.com. Note that the 'q' in Sequoia was replaced with a 'g.' "
In a statement to CNBC, a Sequoia spokesperson said, "We were notified by a single LP, and in an abundance of caution we alerted all active Sequoia LPs."
Venture capital — with its high stakes investments and big-dollars transactions — has now become a target of criminals that try to rip off businesses through wire fraud. The FBI calls schemes like the one Sequoia described as "business email compromise" and said last year that the "level of sophistication in this multifaceted global fraud is unprecedented."
Sequoia said in the email that there's no indication of a breach in its systems and urged its investors to be cautious of emails with unfamiliar wire transfer instructions or with words like "urgent." The firm provided a phone number and email address and asked that LPs contact Sequoia immediately so any potential issues could be investigated.
Founded in 1972, Sequoia is among the best-known venture firms in Silicon Valley, having invested in Apple, Cisco, Google and LinkedIn as well as notching more recent wins with WhatsApp, Dropbox and GitHub. The firm's website says that the public companies its backed have a combined market value of $3.3 trillion.
— CNBC's Kate Fazzini contributed to this report.