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AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

FBI: With one email, Brookhaven man made off with $566,000

Update: In November 2017, the Brookhaven man who made off with more than a half million dollars from a Kansas county is heading to federal prison for his cybercrime.

Here's our original post:

With a single email, a Brookhaven man persuaded county government officials in Kansas to pay him more than half a million dollars that should have gone to a road contractor, federal prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint.

George S. James, 48, sent an email purporting to be from the CEO of the contractor, the Department of Justice said in a news release.  The email came with a form requesting payment to a new bank account, the criminal complaint says.

Apparently with no questions asked, two weeks later Sedgwick County paid $566,000 to the account. Sometime after that, the real contractor asked the county why he hadn't been paid.

That's when the county began wondering where the money went. An electronic trail led federal investigators to an account held in the name of Rapid Repairs and Consultants at a Georgia bank, the DOJ said. Surveillance photos showed an individual matching the description of James conducting ATM and counter transactions for the account in Georgia, according to the criminal affidavit filed by an FBI agent.

James was arrested last week and charged with one count of wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A federal public defender has been appointed as his counsel, court records show.

The FBI last year said that it was seeing a dramatic increase in "CEO fraud" email scams where the attacker pretends to be the boss to trick someone into sending money. The agency has this tip for avoiding being a victim: Pick up and phone and verify who's sending the email. Wichita, take note: No high-tech device or IT expert needed.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.