Earlier this month, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, made a payment of $1.2 million, thinking it was a legitimate bill from Moss Construction. However, it was later discovered that the request was fraudulent, as reported by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The investigation is ongoing, and limited details have been shared.
The payment was meant for the construction of a new Fort Lauderdale police headquarters building, which had been approved by residents in 2019. Moss Construction had been contracted for the $119 million project, according to city records.
City Manager Greg Chavarria informed staff via email that someone pretending to be Moss Construction had requested an Automated Clearing House electronic funds transfer (ACH payment). The scammer had filled out the necessary paperwork and attached a blank check, which led the Accounts Payable department to believe it was legitimate, as the names matched corporate records.
A report by the Federal Trade Commission revealed that consumers lost approximately $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, with imposter scams being the most commonly reported online fraud. City government phishing scams and business email compromises have been on the rise, particularly in Florida, where municipalities have paid millions in ransoms in recent years.
Chavarria speculated in the staff email that the bad actors may have hacked the construction company or obtained information from public records to execute the scam.
Efforts are being made by the city’s bank to recover the funds, but the process may take at least a week.