The U.S. Secret Service is investigating the theft of $2.3 million from the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, by foreign thieves using fake email addresses.
Town officials said Monday the investigation began July 26 when they learned that the ConVal School District had not received its $1.2 million monthly transfer from the town. On Aug. 18, they realized another $1.2 million meant to go to a general contractor working on a bridge construction project was similarly diverted.
“It pains us to inform the residents and taxpayers of Peterborough that like so many other towns and cities, we have fallen victim to an internet-based crime that has defrauded our taxpayers,” Select Board Chair Tyler Ward and Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said in a statement.
Officials said investigators have identified email exchanges between the town’s finance department staff and thieves posing as school district staff using forged documents and email accounts. Bank transfers meant to go to the construction contractor were diverted through similar means, and the investigation showed that the email exchanges originated overseas.
“These criminals were very sophisticated and took advantage of the transparent nature of public sector work to identify the most valuable transactions and focus their actions on diverting those transfers,” Ward and MacStay said.
The money can’t be recovered by reversing the transactions, and officials don’t yet know whether the losses will be covered by insurance.
In the meantime, the town has reached out to the governor’s office and the state’s congressional delegation for help.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, chair of the Emerging Threats and Speaking Oversight Committee, said her office will support Peterborough as it investigates what she called a “devastating attack.”
Hassan held a roundtable discussion Monday with officials in other New Hampshire communities that have been similarly victimized, and the infrastructure package that recently passed the Senate includes a $1 billion grant program she proposed to improve cybersecurity at the state and local level.
“We know that cybercriminals are smart, savvy, and able to identify and attack our weak spots – and we must make sure that our state and local governments are ready,” Hassan said in a statement.
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