Florida city duped out of $1.2M in simple BEC scam

Scammers impersonated a construction company building a new police headquarters to trick the Florida city of Fort Lauderdale out of $1.2 million. Law enforcement is now investigating.

“During the construction project, residents and visitors will see an increased presence of construction vehicles, equipment, and personnel in the vicinity of the construction site,” the Fort Lauderdale Police Department announced at the beginning of August.

Residents of this city in the US state of Florida had indeed approved funding for the $119 million construction project back in 2019.

But in order to build, you need cash – and Fort Lauderdale is now poorer by $1.2 million. It turns out the city has been tricked into transferring funds to scammers pretending to be a construction company building the new police headquarters.

The city paid the sum after receiving what it believed to be a legitimate bill from Moss Construction. The incident took place on September 14, and the wrong transaction was discovered six days later.

“Someone sent a request for an ACH payment (Automated Clearing House electronic funds transfer) pretending to be Moss Construction,” Fort Lauderdale City Manager Greg Chavarria told staff in a Wednesday email, according to a report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“The scammer filled out the paperwork and had a blank check attached. Accounts Payable checked the names and they matched corporate records.”

Dean Trantalis, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, also told WSVN that the scam “wasn’t just an email, like, ‘Hey, this is Moss Construction. Send me $1.2 million.’ It was followed up with full documentation, multiple paperwork."

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department has offered few details about the ongoing investigation – its homepage and Facebook account are silent about the incident. The city’s bank is working to get the money back, but it’s going to take some time.

Business email compromise and phishing scams targeting city governments have been on the rise in the US.

A February report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, citing imposter scams as the most commonly reported online fraud.

The FTC defines phishing as an online scam that targets people, businesses, and agencies through messages sent via email, text, or direct message that appear to be from a reputable source. Attackers may use credible information about a company and its employees to make their messages more realistic.

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