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Phishing scam costs a Texas school district more than $2 million

An email scam recently tricked a Texas school district into handing over more than $2 million to the perpetrator.

The incident occurred in November 2019 but has only just been made public. The Manor Independent School District, located just outside Austin, said in a statement that the “phishing email scam” fooled it into handing over around $2.3 million, adding that the case is now being handled by the FBI. The district said that law enforcement has “strong leads” while urging anyone with relevant information to get in touch.

Local investigators told CNN the cash was handed over in three separate fraudulent transactions, but at this stage, officials have declined to release further details about the specifics of the case.

Despite an uptick in ransomware attacks that also seek to steal cash from victims, this latest news is a reminder that phishing scams are as active as ever, with everyone from individuals to businesses in the crosshairs.

A phishing scam attempts to trick someone into handing over sensitive details linked to an online bank account, payment website, or some other service. The message, which will try to look as if it’s coming from a genuine source, encourages the victim to click on a link in the email to sort out a (bogus) issue, or by tempting them with free stuff or some kind of refund. But the link instead leads to a fake site aimed at fooling the victim into giving up sensitive details.

As could be the case with the Texas school district incident, scammers  can also use bogus emails to prompt someone into making a payment for goods or services to a bank account that the victim thought was genuine but which is actually bogus.

With this in mind, be sure to always think twice before clicking on links in emails that purport to be from an acquaintance, service, or company that you deal with.

The authorities are doing what they can to track down and prosecute those responsible for cybercrimes, but the challenging task requires huge resources in order to mount an effective response. There have been some notable successes in the last year, with more than 280 people arrested in a single operation spanning 10 countries for email scams that are believed to have tricked numerous victims into handing over a total of $1.3 billion in 2018 alone.

“Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said at the time.

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