Threat Management, Malware, Phishing

Texas county nearly duped out of $888,000 in Hurricane Harvey phishing scam

The most populous county in Texas nearly lost $888,000 last year, after a local government employee fell for a spear phishing campaign that used Hurricane Harvey as a lure, the Houston Chronicle has reported.

According to the Chronicle, the auditor's office at Harris County – which includes much of the city of Houston and is home to almost 4.1 million citizens – received a series of emails beginning on Sept. 21, 2017, from someone claiming to be an accountant at D&W Contractors, Inc., a company hired to clear debris and perform repair work on a parking lot damaged by the hurricane in August.

The email reportedly asked the county to deposit $888,000 into the contractor's new bank account. Only after the payment was executed on Oct. 12 did county officials receive an alert that the account did not actually belong to D&W, and the contact person who sent the emails was a fraud. Fortunately, the county was able to recoup the money.

Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen told the Chronicle that the county the county is working with the FBI, as the group responsible for the phishing attack has apparently tried similar scams against other county and city governments. He did not specify what group this is.

Last August, the US-CERT issued a warning that scammers could seek to capitalize on Hurricane Harvey, much like they have following other disasters.

Bradley Barth

As director of community content at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for SC Media online conferences and events, as well as video/multimedia projects. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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