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Government & Politics

Information leak reveals Fresno was victim of national phishing scam that cost the city $600,000

Jerry Dyer.jpg
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer held a news conference at City Hall Thursday to address the scam.

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer disclosed details Thursday of a phishing scam that cost the city more than $600,000.

The scam targeted the city of Fresno back in 2020 under Lee Brand’s administration. The fraud was done through fake invoices that replicated a construction company that the city was working with. Mayor Dyer said the invoices had instructions to wire money to a different bank account.

“But everything else was exactly the same, which is why it did not cause any suspicions at that time,” he said.

Fresno wasn’t the only victim. The FBI opened its Fresno investigation in April 2020 and informed the city that it was part of a larger scam operation that targeted other municipalities in the U.S. All of them involved invoices from construction companies. Dyer said the agency requested the information remain confidential during the active criminal investigation.

Although Brand’s administration kept the information under wraps, Dyer said he disclosed the information during a closed session of the city council in early January 2021, when he first took office. Dyer said he was recently informed that there had been a public records request filed in December 2021, requesting information about a wire fraud. That request was never fulfilled, Dyer said, because the request was given to someone in the city attorney's office who had no knowledge of the FBI investigation.

“At no time was there ever an attempt to hide information from the public or to deceive any media outlet on a public records request,” Dyer said.

The information was leaked when a city council member emailed the city manager and city attorney to ask for an update on the investigation and then shared the email with a media outlet.

“It is not for me to judge whether that was any type of violation, whether that was any attempt to compromise an investigation, but I do know that ultimately, there is a potential for that to occur,” he said.

Dyer expressed concern over the release of the information tipping off the suspects in the case and affecting the ability of the city and other municipalities to recover lost funds. Dyer shared that the FBI revealed that suspects have been identified in the case, but no arrests have been made yet. Another lasting impact, Dyer said, was the potential for the city to lose the trust of local, state and federal agencies in sharing sensitive information.

“We're the only city of all those that were victimized to share this information publicly, which as the mayor of this city is quite embarrassing,” he said.

He said the city was planning on revealing the information once the FBI concluded its investigation. In the meantime, Dyer said the city has since stepped up security protocols for issuing payments.