Hackers nearly steal more than $120,000 from a father-and-son law firm in St. Lucie County
By Jim Ash
Senior Editor, The Florida Bar News

An alert manager at a local bank is the only thing that prevented hackers from stealing more than $120,000 from a small, father-and-son law firm in St. Lucie County.

“It was almost a disaster,” said Roger Messer of Messer & Messer in Port St. Lucie. “All I can advise is, know your banker.”

The breech occurred when scam artists broke into a paralegal’s email account, enabling them to monitor her correspondence live, key stroke for key stroke, Messer said.

Armed with the firm’s trust account number, the thief emailed CenterState Bank and requested a $120,691.86 wire transfer to a fictitious Wells Fargo account named, “Peele luck Trades Inc.”

“Please forward all documents you might need Roger to sign to me. Also, if there is a charge for this transfer, please debit it from our operating account,” the hacker wrote, adding the account number.

When a bank manager wrote back to ask for confirmation, she received no response and called the firm. Police were later notified.

Messer said his office was forced to close for a day while it installed new security measures and new computer equipment. New accounts had to be opened and old credit cards and checks had to be destroyed, Messer said.

“It cost me over $1,000 and a day’s work, and that’s not insignificant in a small firm,” he said.

What’s most frustrating, Messer said, is that Messer & Messer upgraded its digital security two months ago after an initial hack.

“That was supposed to be the latest upgrade,” Messer said.

Messer would like to see financial institutions adopt tighter controls for wire transfers and lawmakers approve stiffer criminal penalties for internet fraud.

Meanwhile, he has nothing but praise for his banker, and advises other law firms to get to know their financial institutions and explore additional safeguards.

Members can report suspicious email they receive to [email protected].

For tips on protecting your computer from malware, visit our Cybersecurity webpage.