An email scam has victimized the Platte County treasurer’s office and cost taxpayers more than $48,200.
County Treasurer Rob Willard said his office received an email Friday that appeared to be from Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber, instructing him that money be transferred by bank wire to a Wells Fargo bank in Florida.
But it turned out that Schieber did not make the request and Willard was being spoofed as part of a widespread internet scam. Several other counties in Missouri and Kansas, including Barton County in Kansas, have fallen victim to the same scams.
Three weeks ago in response to supposed emails from the Barton County administrator, the county treasurer transferred $48,600 to a purported bank in Atlanta. Those emails were not sent by the county administrator.
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In Platte County, “I made a mistake,” Willard said Wednesday. “I won’t sugarcoat it. I won’t dress it up, I made a mistake.”
Willard said once he realized that his office has been scammed, he quickly contacted the county’s bank, alerted the sheriff’s office and filed a complaint with the FBI. County officials hoped to have their bank reverse the wire transfer.
As of Wednesday, county officials had not recovered the money.
Bridget Patton, spokeswoman for the FBI, said the FBI has been contacted by Platte County and officials were following up. Patton could not provide additional information about the complaint.
County commissioners met Wednesday to discuss what happened and what procedures were being put in place to prevent the county from being victimized again.
“How does $48,000 go out of this building on this email train, per our procedures?” asked 1st District Commissioner Beverlee Roper. “If those are our procedures, we definitely need to change our procedures. Or were our procedures violated?”
Willard said that was not how the county normally operates, but the request appeared to be urgent.
“I thought because of the time-sensitive nature of the transaction, that is why I took the action that I did,” he said.
“Everyone in the county knows that it takes more than one person to spend money in the county,” said Schieber. “Rob made a mistake.”
Willard said he received the email at 1:47 p.m. on Friday that asked, “Are you available, a wire transfer needs to go out.”
In response, Willard emailed back and asked if money was needed to pay on a bond.
Willard said he received an email that said, “We need to pay a consultant today in the amount of $48,220, let me know when you are ready and I will send the account information over to you.”
The money was to pay a state tax consultant, Willard said he was told.
In a follow-up email, Willard asked for a purchase order to make the wire transfer.
“We need to move on this transaction now,” Willard was told in an email reply.
Willard completed the transaction several hours later.
About 5:30 p.m., Willard said he received a phone call from Schieber, who was out of town fishing and did not receive Willard’s call because he was did not have cellphone service.
Willard told Schieber that the wire transfer was sent without problems. But Schieber told Willard that he didn’t send him any emails or request the wire transfer.
“This was a hard, hard lesson to learn,” Willard said. “This was an error in judgment and a mistake.”