A rash of home foreclosures and abandoned dwellings had already taken its toll on the tax revenue for the Village of Summit, a town of 10,000 just outside Chicago. Then, in March, computer crooks broke into the town’s online bank account, making off with nearly $100,000.
“As little as we are, $100,000 represents a good chunk of money, and it hurts,” said Judy Rivera, the town’s administrator. “We were already on a very lean budget, because the tax money just isn’t coming in.”
Summit is just the latest in a string of towns, cities, counties and municipalities across America that have seen their coffers cleaned out by organized thieves who specialize in looting online bank accounts. Recently, crooks stole $100,000 from the New Jersey township of Egg Harbor; $130,000 from a public water utility in Arkansas; $378,000 from a New York town; $160,000 from a Florida public library; $500,000 from a New York middle school district; $415,000 from a Kentucky county (this is far from a comprehensive list).
According to Rivera, the theft took place Mar. 11, when her assistant went to log in to the town’s account at Bridgeview Bank. When the assistant submitted the credentials to the bank’s site, she was redirected to a page telling her that the bank’s site was experiencing technical difficulties. What she couldn’t have known was that the thieves were stalling her so that they could use the credentials she’d supplied to create their own interactive session with the town’s bank account.
“The site even gave her a phone number to call for customer service, but when she tried the number she found it was a residence,” Rivera said. “She also called the bank, which said they weren’t having any technical difficulties.”
The following day, Bridgeview Bank notified the town that someone had executed two sets of transfers: one automated clearing house (ACH) batch transfer of seven payments of slightly less than $10,000 to individuals around the country; and a large wire transfer of nearly $30,000. The bank succeeded in stopping the fraudulent wire, but Rivera said the town has all but given up hope that it will retrieve the other $70,000.
Bridgeview Bank could not be immediately reached for comment.
Looking for advice about what banks and businesses should be doing to help detect and block this type of fraud? Check out this post: E-Banking Guidance for Banks & Businesses.