EXCLUSIVE: Scammers target City of Reedley in attempted check fraud scheme | #phishing | #scams


REEDLEY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) -Over an 18-month period beginning in September 2020, scammers targeted the City of Reedley in an attempted check fraud scheme that could’ve cost it nearly $20,000.

“They were writing checks that were really not on Reedley check stock, but it said ‘City of Reedley’ and it even had our actual bank account on there. They were actual check numbers that we had been using,” said city manager Nicole Zieba.

The checks varied. Some were for a few hundred dollars, and others were for as low as $55 -but the city’s name was misspelled to ‘Reedly’.

“They were taking them to liquor markets, to Targets, to supermarkets up in places like Sacramento, Placerville, away from the valley, and having these checks cashed,” she said.

Zieba explained because of protective policies with the city’s bank where they have to verify every single check that comes through against what the city tells them they’ve written checks on, the fraud was unsuccessful. But some stores lost funds.

“We do know some of these retailers, particularly the small liquor marts, they’re out those dollars and it’s very unfortunate,” said Zieba. “But the City of Reedley and the taxpayers dollars were not out a single dollar in this scam.”

Reedley Police was able to obtain surveillance video of two suspects cashing checks in Placerville, said Zieba, but they have yet to be identified.

In another part of the scam, someone pretended to be then-mayor Frank Piñon and texted a staffer asking them to buy gift cards.

“She absolutely thought it could be the mayor, and we did have a series of incidents where people pretending to be various city officials, even someone pretending to be me… emailed our entire city staff trying to get people to buy gift cards.”

The city manager said they caught on to that, too. She explained the city has frequent training about phishing scams, as well as a firewall to protect them against hackers. Similar practices were implemented in Fresno recently after the city lost about $600,000 in wire fraud.

“Our budget is so small, us small cities we have small budgets. I sorta joke with my staff sometimes that what happened in Fresno is a rounding error to them, [to us] it could be our entire budget,” said Zieba.

Reedley Police has an open investigation of the case. Zieba said detectives don’t believe it was an inside job.

“Frankly, any vendors of ours who got paid by us had the bank account number, so it could’ve come from any number of sources.”



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