Cabarrus County scammed out of more than $2.5 million

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Cabarrus County officials say they were targeted in a social engineering scam, which caused them to lose more than $1.7 million. 

The County says they were attempting to pay Branch and Associates, Inc.-- a contractor for construction of West Cabarrus High, a new school in the county-- about $2.5 million, but the money was diverted into another account. They were able to recover some of it, but they say $1.7 million remains missing.

An investigation into the hack revealed that conspirators posed as representatives of the company and targeted employees of Cabarrus County schools and county officials through a series of emails beginning on November 27, 2018.

A request was made to change Branch and Associates’ vendor banking information by a conspirator, and the county approved.

After the vendor payment was made, funds were unknowingly deposited into the scammers’ account, they were diverted through multiple different accounts, the investigation revealed.

The county received a courtesy notification of a missed payment from Branch and Associates on January 8, alerting them to the scam. 

SunTrust, was notified and $776,500 was frozen out of the $2,504,601 that remained in traceable accounts. That money was given to Branch and Associates on March 20 and the remaining  $1.7 million was paid using money was moved from another county fund. 

In recent years, the FBI has seen a steep increase in the amount and sophistication of socially engineered business email account compromise (EAC) scams. 

Cabarrus County officials say a new vendor authentication process is now in place and staff has participated in multiple group and individual trainings to avoid another incident.