Franklin warns residents of phishing scam after losing more than $500K

FRANKLIN, Mass. — The Town of Franklin is warning residents of cyber fraud and phishing scams after being schemed out of more than $500,000.

According to Town Administrator Jamie Hellen, Franklin was the victim of a “spear-phishing” attack, and a payment of $522,000 was misdirected to a third party. During a “spear-phising” attack, a thief targets an individual in town hall, builds their trust by posing as a vendor that is legitimately working with the town and then gets the funds sent to them electronically in a way that is difficult to track.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound too good. Hopefully they will get it back,” resident Dan Wild said of the lost town money.

The Franklin Police Department is working with state and federal authorities to complete an investigation and a special counsel has been retained by the town.

Attorneys for the town have issued no further comment until the Franklin Police Department has completed its investigation.

Hellen said the town’s electronic data is secure and there is no evidence of a breach in systems that would compromise personal information.

“This was a sophisticated targeted attack where a specific person is targeted in the scheme," said Franklin Police Public Information Officer Brian Johnson. "We are working with state and federal partners to figure out who is responsible.”

The incident, not classified as a ransomware attack, did not impact the town’s general fund.

New procedures are now being implemented to limit future incidents.

Lifelong Franklin resident Susan Borgeau was frustrated so much money went missing during this difficult time for budgets because of the pandemic. She questions whether the town has a bigger problem, citing how the town clerk just stepped down after a primary election issue.

“It’s pretty shocking but then again it’s not that surprising given this is the same town hall that had over 3,000 ballots in the vault and just forgot to count them,” said Borgeau.

In a letter, Hellen told residents, "I have been reassured that Franklin’s electronic data is secure. There is currently no evidence of a breach of our system. All personal information, accounts and town software systems have been found not to be compromised.”

Boston 25 spoke to Stephanie Helm, director of MassCyberCenter of MassTech, who says they are offering resources to towns to help protect them from incidents like this.

“By having a team and having people understand what everyone’s role and responsibility might be during an incident you can save valuable time by being more ready to respond when you detect an incident,” said Helm.

The town administrator says they have hired a third party attorney and that attorney had advised them not to answer any specifics on how this may have happened.