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Fire Department Sent $220K for Ambulances, Then 'Panicked'

Hackers stole money sent by volunteer unit in Rockville, Maryland
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2024 7:44 AM CDT
'Mind-Boggling' Scam Leaves Fire Department Out $120K
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Joaquin Barbara)

A volunteer fire department in Maryland is out more than $100,000 after money meant for new ambulances was swiped in a "business email compromise" scam. Per the Washington Post, the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department wired a $220,000 deposit for two much-needed new ambulances late last month, thinking they were sending the cash to a vendor they'd signed a contract with, according to Eric N. Bernard, the RVFD's president. However, five days after that supposed money exchange, Bernard says, the fire department heard from the vendor, asking where the money was for the new ambulances—money that the RVFD thought had transferred immediately when sent.

"That's when we panicked," Bernard recalls. With IT help, the fire department found that their computer had malware on it and had been "spoofed" and cloned, meaning hackers had been able to intercept the messages between the fire department and bank, then send a new message with their own routing number for the money. Thanks to help from police in Montgomery County and the US Secret Service, Bernard says they were able to recoup about $100,000 of the stolen funds, though the rest may be be lost for good.

The RVFD notes in a release that, due to donations that have been pouring in since news of the theft broke, "we remain in a strong financial position to both complete this purchase and to continue operations as normal." The department says it's working with its bank and the authorities in a continued investigation to possibly recoup more funds. "The thought that anybody would think of stealing from volunteers is just mind-boggling," Bernard tells NBC Washington, adding that two other fire departments who used the same vendor were also stolen from around the same time. "We don't have any time to deal with garbage like this. ... Shame on them."

(More scam stories.)

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