Sanpete recovers all funds from email scam in June
MANTI—Sanpete County has received the remaining $24,850 of $37,850 taken from it back in June by email scammers.
On June 13, County Treasurer Amy Willden received an email that appeared to be from County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett instructing her to immediately wire $37,850 to a Chase Bank in Florida to pay “a consultant sent by the state on taxes.”
Willden said that while her office generally does not pay bills, “I thought the request was being sent to me because it had to do with something on my end of the office.”
Sanpete County has stringent procedures in place to address payment of bills by check, but since it rarely works with wire transfers, there was no firm procedure to address the situation at that time, so Willden wired the money as instructed.
Two hours later she started having doubts.
“I called the bank right then and started the process [to recover the funds],” she told the Sanpete Messenger shortly after.
Zions Bank was unable to stop or reverse the transfer, and it soon became apparent the whole thing was a scam.
In September, after verifying that the email was fraudulent, Chase Bank refunded $13,000 to the county but was unable to return the rest because the funds were not transferred into the registered account indicated in the email and it could not locate where they were transferred to.
Sanpete County, and Willden, was not alone in being duped by these scammers. According to Korby Siggard, Utah Counties Indemnity Pool claims manager, Emery and San Juan Counties were also hit. In Utah, 22 counties, including Sanpete, are self-insured through this pool.
In all three cases the emails were the same, Siggard said.
On June 29, the state auditor’s office sent an email to all Utah counties alerting them of the scam.
“This targeted email scam thrives on familiarity using information publicly available on an entity’s website such as names, titles or other references,” it said.
The three counties subsequently filed claims with UCIP and received the funds two weeks ago.
The incident “didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime and the county was made whole,” Willden said.
But the experience has certainly left its mark.
“I feel horrible, stupid that I fell for it, but the email was quite urgent, so there was no normal reason to question it,” Willden said.
The incident has led to changes in all three counties.
Now, in Sanpete County, if such a request comes in, it will be scrutinized by both the treasurer’s and auditor’s departments, and no transfer will be made until the request is verified with the sender.
Willden said the county commission has been very supportive of her throughout this process.
“They understood this could happen to anyone and have stood behind me,” she said.
This email is similar to another making the rounds that targets individuals and purports to be from someone the receiver knows. The scammer claiming to be an acquaintance says in these emails that they have been mugged while traveling and asks the targeted individual them to wire emergency funds immediately.
After her experience, Willden has this advice for anyone who receives a similar email:
“Double check everything. Always check with the sender. Be diligent,” she said. “Fraud can happen to anyone.”