Key Biscayne police said Friday the department recovered more than $100,000 – all but $3,300 – for the Botanica condominium defrauded through an email “phishing” fraud earlier this year.
Key Biscayne Deputy Chief Jason Younes said the department worked with state and federal authorities to recover the money but are still trying to determine who was responsible for a deceptive series of emails that tricked condominium employees into making a payment to a new and deceptive bank account.
“We hope to have a close to this pretty soon,” said Younes, adding detectives have solid leads.
Matt Bramson, the Botanica condo president, said Banco Popular bank officials confirmed that $101,665.57 had been returned. He said the remainder of the loss had been taken out of ATMs by thieves before the account was frozen. He said he’d been told that the theft was linked to the account of an auto body shop near Houston.
“I’m surprised and thrilled. I thought that when money gets taken like that, you never see it again,” Bramson said.
Because of the shortfall, owners at the 293-unit complex were in the middle of paying a special assessment, ranging between $300 to $400 per owner. Bramson said he’s calling a meeting for Monday to authorize credits.
“I’m really thankful to the detectives and (Key Biscayne Police) Chief Sousa,” Bramson said.
The email chain that deceived the employees appeared to have come from the “master” association at Key Colony, and the payment was part of a regular transfer to cover the costs of maintenance. A cleverly-forged email purported to say that because of an audit, staff should direct a regular payment to a different bank account, with an email address that only differed by one letter from the genuine email address.
The crime was only detected when the master association notified Botanica in January that the funds had not been received.
The Botanica condo manager was fired in the wake of the incident and financial transaction rules were tightened, Bramson said.
Financial “imposter” fraud remains a huge problem in the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission said 726,000 imposter fraud cases were reported to the Consumer Sentinel Network in 2022. Bank transfers and payments accounted for $1.59 billion in losses. Florida has the fourth-highest per capita rate of fraud in the nation, the FTC said last month.
Banco Santander offers this advice on avoiding phishing scams:
- Were you expecting the email – did the message come from a person entity you know?
- Check the email address. Cybercriminals use similar email addresses to try to trick you.
- Is it asking you to do something: Phishing emails usually want you to carry out an action.Think twice before clicking on any link or downloading attached files.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.