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Plumas Bank saves newspaper from sophisticated money scam

Dan McDonald
Managing Editor
10/18/2013
 

An alert employee at Plumas Bank saved Feather Publishing from being scammed out of $33,128 earlier this month.

The Quincy branch’s operations officer, Robin Wight, thought the newspaper company’s faxed request to transfer money to a New York bank and then on to a bank in Russia seemed odd. So she called the newspaper’s publisher, Mike Taborski.

“Robin’s prompt actions exemplified the exceptional level of customer service we have always received from Plumas Bank,” Taborski said.

The scam was sophisticated.

The previous week, the Feather Publishing responded to an authentic-looking U.S. Department of Transportation fax seeking financial information to allow DOT payment for future services provided by the newspaper.

Because the newspapers do business with the DOT, the request was not unusual.

“We have had similar requests from other governmental agencies who place legal notice advertising in our newspapers,” Taborski said. “And, frankly, this seemed to us to be in line with those other requests.”

The newspaper complied with the bogus DOT request and sent a faxed reply. The request for bank information included using the company’s fax cover sheet in the reply, and a document authorized by Taborski’s signature providing them with the name of the newspaper’s bank and account number.

Scammers quickly used the information in an attempt to steal cash from the newspaper. They faxed an authentic-looking money transfer request to Plumas Bank that same week.

The bank received a fax that appeared to be from Feather Publishing Co. Inc., since it was on the company’s fax transmittal form, and a wire transfer request that included Taborski’s signature and the newspaper’s account number.

In the scammers’ fax, Feather Publishing requested that Plumas Bank transfer $33,128 to Bank of New York. The beneficiary bank and account were listed as Alfa-Bank in Moscow.

It was the Moscow destination that first caught Wight’s attention. “She also questioned whether or not it was actually my signature on the document,” Taborski said.

He said the signature was an exact replica of his own, as was the fax cover sheet used. The newspaper’s bookkeeper, Elise Monroe, quickly remembered the request they previously received and sent to the DOT. When comparing the two, it became apparent that was how the scammers acquired the fax cover sheet and Taborski’s signature to replicate.

“In hindsight, the fact that it was initially faxed to us and not mailed should have been a red flag that we unfortunately overlooked,” Taborski said.

Feather Publishing chose to close its compromised checking account and order more checks. It also had to contact vendors and customers who had established authorized access to direct deposits and automatic transfers.

The company will continue to monitor every transaction in the old account until it can be completely closed.

“Although the scammers didn’t succeed in getting any money wired, it still became a costly and time-consuming mistake,” said Taborski.

But the mistake could have been much more costly — it could have cost an additional $33,128.

Feather Publishing is reporting this story to hopefully prevent other local businesses who deal with the DOT — particularly trucking companies — from being victimized.

The newspaper learned of one other similar report this week. A landscape contractor at Lake Almanor received a telephone call requesting the same bank information from someone who identified himself as being with the DOT. Fortunately, the contractor didn’t comply with the caller’s “very persistent” requests.

Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood emphasized that no one is immune to increasingly sophisticated scams by organized criminal enterprises originating overseas.

“We have to be extra vigilant and clearly understand that we no longer enjoy the insulation of living in our rural setting as we have in the past,” Hagwood said. “It’s a different world — sometimes not always for the better.”

Taborski agreed. He added he was thankful that Plumas Bank was looking out for his family business.

“One of the first things that came to mind for me, when Robin called me as soon as she received the request to wire $33,128, was Plumas Bank’s slogan: ‘Local people serving local needs,’” Taborski said. “And this is a perfect example. I can’t tell you how unbelievably helpful Plumas Bank has been in dealing with this.”

Andrew J. Ryback, the bank’s president, commented, “We were very pleased to be able to help prevent this very serious crime from occurring and I applaud Robin Wight for acting on it so quickly.”

He added, “Unfortunately, there’s been an explosion of fraud attempts worldwide and it is an ever-evolving challenge for banks to protect their customers. There is definitely an advantage to working with a community bank that knows their customers by name and their banking habits. In this case particularly, Plumas Bank’s best defense against this type of fraud was knowing our customer.”

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