City Treasurer Falls for Email Scam, to the Tune of $98K

Ottawa releases details of July incident
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2019 5:48 PM CDT
A view of Ottawa.   (Getty Images / Julen Arabaolaza)

(Newser) – Ottawa's city treasurer was taken in by a phishing scam, and ended up sending almost $98,000 to an email fraudster, the city auditor general's office has revealed. Last July, Marian Simulik received an email that appeared to come from city manager Steve Kanellakos, asking for the sum—about $130,000 in Canadian dollars—to be wire transferred to a US bank account to pay a city supplier. She did so, and five days later, got an email from the same address asking for another $150,000 ($200,000 Canadian) to be sent to pay off the bill in full, CTV reports. One problem: When the second email came in, Simulik and Kanellakos were sitting in the same meeting. The treasurer asked the manager about the issue in person, and he had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out the fraudsters had used a spoof email, the Ottawa Citizen reports.

The incident was immediately reported to city officials and police (though they reportedly said there was nothing they could do, since the money had already been wired). The auditor general launched an internal probe and found that Simulik had fallen victim to what's known as a "fake CEO scam," in which fraudsters aim for bigger targets, like executives, the CBC reports. Kanellakos said Monday that Simulik "was a victim in this" and didn't breach any rules, but she said in her own statement that it's been a struggle: "I have prided myself for professional stewardship of taxpayer money for the last 28 years. That I should be the target and the victim of this sophisticated attack has affected me deeply both professionally and personally." The US Secret Service arrested a man in Florida suspected of being connected to the scam, and says some of the city's funds may be recovered. (More on this type of scam here and here.)

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