Millions missing after scammers impersonate Roanoke company

Published: Jul. 30, 2019 at 10:51 PM EDT
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It all started with an email, and an innocent request. .

In November of last year, officials in Cabarrus County, North Carolina received what they thought was a change in banking information from Branch and Associates, the Roanoke construction firm handling the build of the new West Cabarrus High School.

Changes like that are "routine," according to the county, so they thought nothing of routing $2.5 million to the new account, and right into the hands of scammers.

The county didn't realize what happened until Branch and Associates notified them of a missed payment a month later. By then, over $1.7 million of the money had gone missing.

"Well unfortunately these things do happen quite a bit," said Julie Wheeler, the president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Virginia.

She says that while scams like this one are common, the sheer complexity sets it apart. "Absolutely. It's incredibly sophisticated," she said.

In addition to the new banking information, the scammers provided Cabarras County with "seemingly valid documentation and signed approvals."

According to Craig Floyd, the President of Branch and Associates, the company has never encountered a problem like this with any other job.

"Not to my knowledge," he said.

But, with the number of scams increasing all the time, Julie Wheeler says companies need to take steps to stay safe. Above all, she says employees need to be trained to recognize the slightest mistake in an email. "They need to be very alert," she said.

And, if anyone notices anything suspicious, Wheeler says calling a trusted contact with the company in question is the safest way to go.

"That is the best verification you can have is to have someone on the phone," she said.

The Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office and the FBI are continuing to investigate this case. As for Branch and Associates, they say they're going to wait until the investigation wraps up before they consider making any internal changes.

"Until that matter is concluded, we're not going to change any internal processes," said Craig Floyd.