WAPELLA — An online image of the signature of the DeWitt County treasurer was captured by international thieves who stole $45,000 from DeWitt County in November and attempted to take more than $35,000 recently from the village of Wapella.
A fake $45,000 check that appeared to be issued by DeWitt County was submitted electronically to a bank in New York in November, said DeWitt County Sheriff Jered Shofner. The bank reimbursed the county for the funds when the fraud was exposed, said Shofner.
The sheriff’s department investigation cleared any involvement by county employees but police were unable to determine how the county’s banking information and the signature of Treasurer Chrissy Long became available to suspects in India, said Shofner.
It was not until a similar fraud attempt was made Feb. 25 involving a request for $36,500 to be transferred from the Wapella village account to a bank in Japan that
police had more clues to work with.
When investigators and Wapella Village Board President Mark Miller learned that a check for a tax distribution from the county was posted on the village website, it was clear the thieves had used the information to put together phony bank transactions, said Shofner.
“After we saw the website, our suspect list grew by about 200 million people” who could have accessed the data through the Internet, said Shofner.
According to the sheriff, the village has made many documents available on its website in an effort to address a large number of Freedom of Information Act requests the village receives for public records.
Police are continuing their investigation into the thefts with the help of federal agents. “Now we’re concentrating on the international aspect of it. This case presents some unique challenges,” said Shofner.
Public bodies and school districts in the county received a letter of caution from the sheriff recently outlining the dangers of putting sensitive information online.