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Long IslandPolitics

Nassau legislators call for Inspector General probe of 'phishing' scam

Nassau County Legis. Steve Rhoads spoke Friday at a news conference about the county calling for a probe into cybersecurity controls after the county temporarily lost $710,000 to online fraudsters posing as a county vendor.  (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Nassau Republican legislators Friday called for a probe into the cyber security controls and internal procedures in the office of county Comptroller Jack Schnirman after the county temporarily lost $710,000 to online fraudsters posing as a county vendor. 

The lawmakers sent letters to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and county Inspector General Jodi Franzese requesting an independent review of Schnirman's office, saying they had "no confidence that taxpayer funds are being properly handled."

"There are virtually no controls in the county comptroller's office," said Deputy Presiding Officer Legis. Howard J. Kopel (R-Lawrence) in announcing the move in Mineola on Friday. "This office literally handles billions of dollars in public funds."

The request for an independent review of the county comptroller's office comes two days after Schnirman testified in a legislative finance committee hearing, saying the “phishing” scam was typical of what governments, schools and businesses are confronting in the cyber age. Four Republicans and three Democrats are on the finance committee. 

When asked on Friday whether the office would cooperate with an independent review, Schnirman, a Democrat, accused Republican legislators of "playing politics" over the cyber crime.

"We continue to enhance those controls and look to partner with leaders and experts to stay ahead of this threat," Schnirman said in a statement. "Instead of cynically playing politics with public safety, I encourage the Republican Caucus to join me in working toward proactive solutions to protect taxpayers.”

The scammers completed necessary paperwork designed to prevent theft and offered a fraudulent check as evidence of a new account, police said.

No arrests have been made. Investigators said the scammers sent $710,000 to an elderly woman’s account in Seattle and redirected it to several different accounts. Investigators identified and froze the money. 

Legis. Ellen W. Birnbaum (D-Great Neck), ranking member of the finance committee, said Schnirman has outlined new "safeguards" to block a future theft attempt.

"While no taxpayer dollars were lost, this incident serves as a wake-up call so that we will always be one step ahead of cybercriminals,” Birnbaum said.

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