ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The St. Johns County government is the victim of a cyberattack, to the tune of a million dollars.
Brandon Patty, the clerk of the circuit court and comptroller for St. Johns County, is literally dealing with a million dollar problem in his department.
St. Johns County government had been doing business with DBE Utility Services which is a construction company.
In July, according to Patty and county documents, the county sent the company a payment for roughly $500,000.
However, in September, DBE sent an email to the county, asking “can you please advise on when we can expect this July pay application payment?”
According to a check from the county, St. Johns County had indeed paid the July bill, but the company said it had never received the money.
Later in September, the county sent another payment for more work to the same company, this time for roughly $600,000.
And the DBE told the county again that it had not received any payments from St. Johns. DBE was now owed $1.1 million dollars.
Patty told First Coast News Tuesday, “Once the vendor reached out to us and said, ‘I’m missing these payments,’ we immediately looked into it and recognized there was a potential fraud incident that occurred. We called the banks. We notified law enforcement.”
Patty told First Coast News that hackers acted like DBE via email, and told the county to send the payments using new bank account information. However, that bank account was not DBE’s, it was the fraudster’s.
There is a county policy in place, Patty said, to call a company to verify the change in account number or bank information.
However, “it appears in this example, staff failed to follow policy and the procedures which ultimately led to an erroneous payment being made,” Patty noted.
Law enforcement is still tracking down the fraudster.
Patty says the employee who did not doublecheck the bank account change has been reassigned. Patty is looking for a third party to help deal with and decipher the multiple attempted fraud attacks each year.
Of the $1.1 million dollars missing, More than $600,00 has been recovered. The rest could possibly recovered through insurance or other methods.
“It is my intent the county is made whole,” Patty said.
St. Johns County is not the only county dealing with a fraud investigation.
Tuesday night, Flagler Schools reported that the district is investigating an “electronic transfer of funds to a possible fraudulent vendor bank account.”
Flagler Schools is now investigating with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. The district said no data breach occurred and all district information is secure.