This week the Pickens County Progress (which is the legal organ of Pickens County, GA) had a headline that nearly required me to take a double-take. Alas, I didn’t have to take a double take because about every week is something bafflingly dumb that comes out of Pickens. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community that raised me. However, there are times I want to pound my head against the wall. This week was no exception. Over the past month, the City of Jasper was swindled out of $150,000 because someone hacked either and/or both the City of Jasper’s email account and the Cherokee County Water & Sewer Authority (CCWSA) account and diverted funds in relation to a water agreement between the two entities. Now, this is where it gets… well, interesting… The City of Jasper official told the Progress that whatever entity or individual intercepted the emails told the City of Jasper that all of a sudden, the CCWSA no longer accepted checks and told Jasper to send the funds which had been agreed upon via wire. And the city damn well wired the funds to a bank on 7th Avenue in New York, New York. Evidently, the City kept on emailing with supposed CCWSA which, mind you, kept having its emails intercepted by the fraudulent party before anyone possibly picked up the phone to call. Of course, we don’t know this for sure as it isn’t clear if anyone made any phone calls. HOWEVER, it does seem that a lot of this could have been avoided had someone at the City of Jasper picked up the phone to confirm why there was a sudden change in the method of payment. When I worked for a closing attorney back years ago, we wouldn’t even send wiring instructions via email because of the issues with wire fraud. This is government and it would seem that we could do a little better than this.
Look, I realize we all make mistakes but LAWD HELP. I would like to think when you work for the government or any entity for that matter, you aren’t putting your social security information, banking information, or anything that is similarly sensitive in an unencrypted system and just hoping for the best. First of all, we live in an age where leaks and data breaches are a real thing. The IRS is no stranger to this (for instance here in 2016 or here in 2022). Second of all, we also live in a pro-sunshine law state. While some of that sensitive information like account numbers would hopefully be redacted if requested in open records, again, people do make mistakes. If anything, I hope this serves as a cautionary tale. Just be mindful and vigilant and don’t give your bank information to someone who all of a sudden changes the game. As the attorney, Ken Nugent says in his commercials, “One call, that’s all” can solve a lot of problems here.