Hackers use mayor’s email to ask for gift cards

Williston City Hall
Williston City Hall

Hackers used the mayor of Williston’s email account to reach out to more than 1,700 people in a scam last week.

According to Williston Mayor Jerry Robinson, the city believes a scammer gleaned the email addresses from a mailing list that is used to send the bi-monthly agendas for the Levy County Board of County Commissioners meetings.

Robinson said the email, which was sent on Sept. 9, caused quite a commotion.

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“I got calls from the governor’s office, Ocala PD,” Robinson said in a Friday phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. Employees at city hall also reported that dozens of people either called or stopped by to ask about the email.

The scam starts with a request: “Can I Ask You A Favor?”

Williston Mayor Jerry Robinson

If answered, the response back from the account explains that the request is for gift cards.

“I’m in a conference meeting right now as I would be working till late midnight but need you to get me some gift cards. Can you purchase some Walmart gift cards 5 pieces – $100 each at any nearby store? I tried getting them online but no luck. I would reimburse you later today . I would have preferred to call you but can’t receive or call at the moment with my line, Let me know if you can purchase them now. Thanks.”

Both emails are signed by “Jerry Robinson, Mayor” and list the correct P.O. Box mailing address of Williston City Hall, but the cell and office phone numbers under the signature are the actual numbers with the last two digits transposed. If dialed, they will not reach city hall or Robinson.

Levy County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Lt. Scott Tummond said he also received the email and did not respond because he knows better and because a followup email was sent out to Levy County personnel that the hack had happened.

Tummond said the scam is successful when the recipient of the email does the favor and then the disguised hacker asks for the access codes to the gift cards.

“It’s a common phishing scheme,” he said. “The email comes from somebody you know and the next question comes from the person being duped, who often asks, ‘Where do you want them to be dropped off?'”

Then, Tummond said, the hacker tells the person to give them the gift card tracking number in order to save time.

“This happens so much more frequently than you can even fathom,” Tummond said about internet scams.

He warned that people will tie together their phone contact list with their email list on Facebook, giving scammers more ways to perpetuate fraud.

Tummond said the key to beating scammers is to pick up the phone: “If you received a request from someone you know, call that individual and speak to them in person.”

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