New cybercrimes targeting local governments and taxpayer money

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Cybercrimes targeting taxpayer dollars are on the rise. Auditor of State Dave Yost is warning treasurers, fiscal officers and others responsible for spending public money that scammers are victimizing local governments.

“We’ve all seen and heard about the criminals who try to steal our personal funds. These scammers would like nothing more than to get their sticky fingers on our tax dollars, too,” Yost said. “We need to be vigilant because they are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they attempt to steal money through the internet.”

Peru Township Trustees and citizens

There have been cases of phishing, which involves a link or attachment contained in an email that when opened, infects the computer. Some of the attachments launch viruses that take the computer’s data hostage, until a ransom is paid to unlock the system.

“Some of these scam artists can make your eyes deceive you,” Yost said. “You need to be vigilant, especially if a proposed transaction originates from an email. When dispersing funds online, we must verify first, then trust.”

The warning from Yost comes after several recent attempted scams.

In early May, the Big Walnut Local School District fell victim to a fraudulent, official-looking email asking for $38,520 to be paid to a vendor. Fortunately, the school district was able to recover the money lost.

Other communities have been victimized as well:

  • An investigation continues in an eastern Ohio county after the county’s court data was attacked by ransomware on May 31. A virus had encrypted the court’s data and hackers demanded $2,500 for the key to unlock the information. Because a recent copy of the data wasn’t available, the county agreed to pay the $2,500. (Note: Because the transaction is ongoing, we are not identifying the county.)
  • A similar ransomware attempt was made April 5 in Vernon Township (Clinton County). That cyberattack did not result in the payment of any ransom because the township’s data was backed up.
  • In Peru Township (Morrow County), the township fiscal officer’s computer began screeching on March 9 before a notice appeared on the screen advising that a solution was available by calling an 800 number. The township paid $200 to stop the attack.
  • In Madison County, the Agricultural Society was scammed out of $60,491 through someone posing as the IRS, collecting back taxes. The incident occurred in September.

Yost called on local governments to:

  • Review how their contact information is publicly displayed and consider removing email addresses to reduce the number targets available to scammers;
  • Create established procedures for regular updates of anti-malware software and backing up of data; and
  • Establish defined protocols for anyone dispersing public funds, especially when the requested transfer is initiated by email.

More information about cybercrime is available here.

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