Norwich loses nearly $250,000 to email scam

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2019 10:33:02 PM

NORWICH — Officials said Wednesday that nearly $250,000 was stolen from Norwich’s general fund in what police described as a “sophisticated scam” that victimized a municipal employee this summer

Selectboard member John Langhus said on Wednesday the money was taken through four transactions between Aug. 6 and Aug 23 through a ruse that involved the perpetrator imitating the email address of Town Manager Herb Durfee.

“We cannot overstate the anger and sadness that we feel about this loss for our town,” Langhus said in a prepared statement after the board conducted a more than two-hour executive session with Durfee, Police Chief Jennifer Frank, town Treasurer Cheryl Lindberg and town attorney Susan Gilfillan.

Norwich police have been investigating what officials described as “unusual financial activity” that appeared to involve electronic transfers from the town’s general fund.

The activity, which appeared to be taking place in real-time, was discovered by Lindberg, and announced to residents on Aug 29.

Police ultimately found that “a town employee had fallen victim to a Business Email Compromise scheme,” according to a message Frank posted in September on the town’s Listserv.

While the scheme takes a variety of forms, it often involves scammers targeting people with access to a company’s finances and tricking them into making wire transfers into bank accounts controlled by criminals, according to the FBI.

In addition to the computer scam, Langhus said, town officials also discovered that a series of money transfers were made without proper Selectboard approval.

However, “there is no evidence that suggests that any of these payments were made fraudulently or to recipients who were not entitled to the payments they received,” Langhus said.

A criminal investigation into the money transfers tied to the scam — which totaled $249,720 — is now in the hands of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Langhus said.

Meanwhile, the town is conducting an internal review regarding the legitimate transfers made without Selectboard approval.

Preliminary results from that review are expected next week, Langhus said.

A municipal employee was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, and the town hired Roberta Robinson, the former longtime finance director who retired in June, to run day-to-day operations in the Finance Department, Durfee said last month.

He has declined to identify the employee on leave, and until Wednesday, officials refused to say how much money the town might have lost.

Finance Director Donna Flies, who took charge of the department when Robinson departed, remains an employee of the town, the town manager said earlier this week.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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