8,000 Manatee Co. school employees victimized in email scam

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MANATEE COUNTY Fla. (WFLA) – The Manatee County School District is the victim of a large cyber attack.  Financial information from almost 8,000 employees was stolen through a highly organized phishing scam.

Officials said on January 26th, a payroll employee received an email purporting to be from the superintendent, asking for the W-2s for the 7,900 employees who work in the district.

“It was written in official school district letterhead,” said Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna.

The realistic-looking email fooled the employee, who then sent the documents.

The mistake was not discovered until February 3rd.

Scammers now have financial data and social security numbers for thousands of victims, putting them at risk for identity theft.

“Could be a real problem for the victim, especially if the bad guys go ahead and file a fraudulent return,” said, Jeff Birnbach with the cyber security firm, The Sylint Group.

Birnbach investigates these crimes. He said this scam is hitting businesses and schools across the nation. Hackers can easily disguise their identities in an email, and trick someone into sending sensitive information.

“[Hackers try] to get that sense of urgency, so you don’t think, you just react.”

Birnbach said this story serves as a lesson.  You should use extreme caution when writing emails.

“Email systems were never designed to have security on it. In fact, we tell people if you send something by email, it’s the same thing as sending something on a postcard,” said Birnbach.

The school district has partnered with All Clear ID, an identity theft firm that will monitor all the employees to make sure their identities are not stolen.

Employees have received training and regular updates about phishing scams, but Ciranna pointed out this payroll employee was fooled.

It’s unclear at this time if the employee will face any penalties.

In response to this breach, the school district will provide more training.

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