Aurora landscaper scammed out of thousands of dollars by email hacker

AURORA, Colo. -- An Aurora mother of five is struggling just to make ends meet because a school is refusing to pay her for thousands of dollars in landscaping work.

However, the school is a victim too.

It turns out someone hacked into landscaper Brittany Hancock's email account, and asked the school, Vega Collegiate Academy, to wire the $6,000 it owed.

The school complied, not knowing that money wasn't really going to who they thought.

Hancock had spent more than two months working on the job, and is now struggling to support her family. She had to sell her vehicle and lay off her four employees. However, that was just the beginning of her struggles.

"I've had to borrow money for insulin for my kid. We've never been in a situation where I couldn't just get it for him. It makes you feel like a bad parent," Hancock said.

By the time the school or Hancock realized what had happened, it was too late. Now the school is refusing to pay Hancock because they are unable to get their money back.

"We're committed to doing the right thing, whatever that may be, and at this point we think we acted reasonably and we already made the payment. It's unfortunate. That's the bottom line here. It's unfortunate," said Tim Farmer, an attorney representing Vega Collegiate Academy.

Believe it or not, the FBI says email hacks like the one Hancock experienced have cost businesses nationwide more than a billion dollars a year.

"It happens a huge amount of the time. It's amazing. Email is not a secure vehicle," said Mitch Tanenbaum with Cybercecurity, a local company that assesses cyber risks and advises companies about how to avoid them.

Tanenbaum says unfortunately there may be little Hancock can do.

"She could take them to small claims court. The problem is, she'll be in court forever and how much is she going to pay a lawyer?" Tanenbaum said.

Tanenbaum says there is no clear offender outside of the scammer, which makes cases like this difficult.

"It's  incumbent though on the small business to go tell a company, 'I'll never send you wiring instructions by email or text and if you get that, don't trust it. It's not me. Likewise, for the bigger business, they should know better about wiring money, but it's just often that everybody's busy," he added.

Tanenbaum advises all small businesses to look into cyber risk insurance, which he says is relatively cheap for small businesses. He also says many banks will also allow you to sign up for text messages any time there is a wire out of or in to your account."


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