The following column was submitted to the Burlington Post and appears online and will appear in its Thursday, Sept. 26 print edition.
Many of you may be asking what has happened since the City of Burlington was targeted by criminal fraud of $503,000 this past May.
In order to provide transparency and accountability to residents, I asked our staff to provide a public update at the Sept. 11 Audit committee on what we’ve learned and how we’re protecting ourselves. The public report is available online (http://bit.ly/BurlingtonFraudUpdate).
We learned that a single transaction was made to a falsified bank account as a result of a complex phishing email to City staff requesting to change banking information for an established City vendor.
Upon learning of the fraudulent payment, the City immediately contacted our financial institution and the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS). A criminal investigation is underway, and as soon as we can share more about that, I will.
The city also immediately started an internal investigation, which confirmed that our IT system was not compromised, no employees were involved in perpetrating the fraud, and no personal information was stolen or shared. Further, the city made immediate changes to our internal protocols to prevent this in future.
I’m confident we know what happened and have made the necessary changes to protect the city. Our goal is to recover the funds and work with police to hold those who did this accountable, so they can’t target anyone else.
We know cyber fraud is a growing area of risk for municipalities, and there have been recent reports of other cities across the country falling victim to a similar scheme that ensnared Burlington. I will be raising this matter with my fellow mayors at the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario when we meet in November, so we can share our experiences and expertise to protect all our citizens.
Cyber fraud is also a growing area of risk for organizations and individuals. One way you can protect yourself is to never share financial information online. If you get an email asking for password changes, seeking banking or other financial information, even from an agent you may do business with, call first. I also recommend visiting the HRPS website for some tips for fraud prevention and protection against cybercrime (http://bit.ly/HaltonPoliceFraudPrevention).
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.