UPDATE: City of Ocala recovers funds lost after phishing scam

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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB)-- Updated: 12/3/2019 4:38 a.m.

The city of Ocala has recouped almost all of its money back after a scammer stole hundreds of thousands of dollars at the end of October.

City leaders announced that insurance will cover more than $717,000 wrongfully paid to a fake account.

A scammer set up a fake email address similar to a city contractor and requested payment.

The city is still out nearly $25,000 from the phishing scam.

After paying a $5,000 deductible, the rest of the money will be paid by an insurance company.

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City of Ocala leaders are working to recover more than 700,000 dollars after being ripped off in an email phishing scam.

It all started when scammers posed as a local construction company doing business with the city, sending out a very convincing email asking to change the company's bank account.

"Unfortunately with email phishing campaigns such as this one, it did appear to come from a legitimate contractor,” said Marketing and Communication Manager for the City of Ocala Ashley Dobbs.

The scam email came from an individual claiming to be an Account Specialist with Ausley Construction, a real construction company the city is working with, asking for the company's banking information to be switched.

According to investigators with the Ocala Police Department, more than 700,000 dollars was transferred into the fraudulent account.

However, city officials are not confirming exact numbers as they continue to work with their insurance company.

"We want to make sure that we can work with those agencies and our insurance company to recoup some of those funds and once we figure that out, then we'll have a better idea of what our net financial loss was to the City of Ocala,” Dobbs added.

But how common are phishing schemes like this one?

"They're getting really good at what they do these days,” said Matt Villella, the CEO of Think Technologies Group in Ocala.

He said with the clients he works with, they see at least a couple of phishing emails per month.

"They're just very, very good at coming up with ideas and ways of confusing people so they don't understand really who they're dealing with,” Villella added.

With these scams becoming so realistic, Villella said there's really only one way to stop it.

"If it seems off, or doesn't seem right, don't do it, stop and call and make sure that this is the person that's doing it. That's really the only way you can stop it,” he said.

City officials add that training will take place to better equip employees so this doesn't happen again.

No resident information was leaked in this phishing scheme.