Ottawa city treasurer sends $100,000 in taxpayer money to U.S. fraudster
Ottawa treasurer Marian Simulik gave a statement regarding her involvement in sending more than $100,000 to a fraudster last summer. Simulik fell for a “fake CEO scam,” according to a report from Ottawa’s audit general released Monday afternoon.
Suspicious emails requesting sums of money are nothing new, but this scam, typically referred to as “whaling” because it targets a “big fish,” is typically more intricate of a process than your typical Nigerian prince email. These types of emails target politicians, CEOs, and entrepreneurs able to send large sums of cash.
On July 6, Simulik received an email that looked to be from city manager Steve Kanellakos. The email was requesting that she pay a city supplier $97,797.20 US, about $130,000 CAD.
She researched for the IT supplier and made the payment assuming that the money would be for an overhaul of the ottawa.ca website.
After a few back-and-forth emails with the fake city manager, Simulik sent the requested amount off to a U.S. bank account.
The entire transaction took about four hours, from 10:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m.
The emails themselves should have raised red flags for Simulik. The auditor said that neither the current, nor the past city manager can recall instances where emailing Simulik to wire money to a supplier would be necessary. One of the fake city manager emails even went so far as to say that Simulik should not disclose the information “with anybody in the office,” saying that any questions should be emailed to the scammer.
When the money was sent to the U.S., the fraudster then transferred it from one bank account to another. That second bank account that the money was transferred to was being monitored by the United States Secret Service, which let the City of Ottawa know on August 3rd that if it had been the subject of a fraud scheme.
The fraud is not before the courts, and it appears some of the money lost through the fraud may be recovered.
Though Simulik is a respected individual in her field, the treasurer says she is embarrassed by the incident.
She made an emotional statement to the committee, in which she stated that she prided herself on being a responsible and professional civil servant, having been working the taxpayer dollars for the almost 28 years.
“That I should be the target and victim of this sophisticated attack has affected me deeply both professionally and personally,” she said.