Attorney General, Secretary of State warn local officials of fraudulent email fundraiser

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Secretary of State Jim Condos have issued a warning about a scam that targets municipal officials by preying on the good intentions of others.

In a joint statement last week, Donovan and Condos described how an email sent from a fake account mimicked an official Vermont secretary of state email address. The message went to some municipal officials soliciting donations for a family “in dire need,” claiming a 3-year-old girl “desperately needs your help.”

The incident happened just before Thanksgiving, at a time when people may be particularly aware of helping others in need.

Condos, who noted that his focus in his role is to ensure the integrity of state government, said the email was in no way connected with his office.

“It’s especially important to raise the alarm when we see a phony email misusing the name and logo of state government for fraudulent purposes,” Condos said. “It’s especially alarming that whoever sent this email is preying on the sympathies and generosity of Vermonters.”

The email purported to solicit money “to help support Linda,” a 3-year-old girl supposedly suffering from a rare disease. It used the secretary of state’s office name and logo without permission. The email is sent from an address designed to look like a Vermont secretary of state email to municipal officials, whose email addresses are publicly available.

State officials said they did not believe any state system had been hacked in this incident. Computer specialists at the secretary of state’s office said the email message originated in Nigeria and then bounced off of a Godaddy server hosted in Singapore.

The message directed people to an online fundraising page on the website Fundly.com. The joint statement said that staff in Condos’ office notified Fundly about the incident and asked that it suspend any activity on the account.

Attorney General warned Vermonters against donating to any cause that misappropriates “the name, seal, or office of any state agency.”

Donovan said he referred the scam email to the Vermont cyber crimes unit of the FBI.  His public message is a reminder that donors vet the causes they support. “Be cautious and know that your charitable dollars are going to legitimate causes serving real families,” Donovan said.

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