Fresno Officials Lost $600k in Taxpayer Dollars to Phishing Scam

( – Fresno’s big blunder? City officials missed red flags and fell for a phishing scam, costing taxpayers more than $600,000, according to a grand jury report released this week. The scam, which hit in 2020 but wasn’t exposed until 2022, should have been caught if city employees were following the security measures in place.

The scheme unraveled after the city realized that an invoice from a contractor, supposedly working on a Fresno police station segment, was bogus. The invoice bore the contractor’s real letterhead but had an incorrect account number. However, city officials remained mum on the incident until it was unearthed. A civil grand jury found that they had failed to pick up on obvious warning signs that could have foiled the fraud.

The grand jury pointed out that the city’s finance department overlooked crucial safeguards. Though some policies were understood through training, they weren’t documented, leading to critical lapses. Employees also didn’t adhere to the requirement of seeking a second approval for substantial payments, leaving room for the scam to slip through undetected.

The scammers, posing as a legitimate vendor already in business with the city, managed to dupe finance department staffers into switching payments from paper checks to electronic transfers, a request that raised eyebrows considering its rarity. Moreover, the scammers juggled multiple bank account numbers tied to different states, a telltale sign that would have been flagged if proper authentication protocols had been followed.

In response to the findings, the city has beefed up its security measures, including adopting new policies like verifying vendors’ legitimacy via phone and implementing additional double-checks for payments. A new city controller, ongoing training, and software upgrades are a part of the city’s response.

Mayor Jerry Dyer expressed gratitude for the grand jury’s focus on the issue, emphasizing their confidence in the updated procedures to prevent similar fraud in the future. He reassured the public of the city’s commitment to minimizing human error going forward.

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