It only took one email for someone to steal more than half a million dollars from a county government in Kansas.
A Brookhaven man has been arrested on federal charges he carried out an e-mail spoofing scheme that cost Sedgwick County $566,000, U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said. George S. James, 48, Brookhaven, Ga., is charged with one count of wire fraud.
According to an FBI agent's affidavit, James created a fake email account intended to resemble Cornejo & Sons, LLC. That company had recently completed a road project for the county.
"He impersonated the identity of the former president of the company," said Andy Green, a lecturer at Kennesaw State University who is researching this growing type of crime.
The criminal complaint alleges that on Sept. 23, 2016, Sedgwick County received an e-mail purporting to be from the CEO of the Cornejo company and with a form attached requesting payments be made electronically to a new account at a Wells Fargo Bank in Georgia.
The county transferred the money into the account. But a couple weeks later, the real Cornejo & Sons reached out to the county wondering when they would be paid.
"A very simple way to stop this would have been a phone call," said Green, "you pick up the phone, you call Cornejo and you find out if this email is legit."
Remember that Wells Fargo account? According to the FBI, James used his real name and address when he set it up leading agents right to his Brookhaven apartment.
If convicted, he faces a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $25,000. So far, the FBI has only recovered about $22,000.