U.S. Secret Service Investigates Hacker Stealing Margate, Fla., Water Customers' Money

The city's police department is working with the Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes.

by Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel / August 29, 2017

(TNS) -- The U.S. Secret Service is investigating how a hacker managed to get water-utility customers’ personal information to steal their money, Margate police said Thursday.

The accounts for sixty-nine water customers in Margate and parts of Coconut Creek were compromised when residents went online to pay their water bills by credit card or debit card, police spokesman Efrain Suarez said.

There was no pattern to how the thief spent the money, other than some $100 charges for Apple's iTunes store, police said. Fraudulent charges within the past two months ranged from $50 to $200, mostly for online purchases.

The Margate utility serves 16,869 customers a month, the city said.

The police department is working with the Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes.

The city of Deerfield said Thursday it uses the same software as Margate and had helped the Secret Service obtain some details about a virus.

On Aug. 16, the Secret Service contacted a city computer specialist, Eddie Martinez, to find out if the city had been hit with a virus on the utility pay system.

“I explained how our team detected the virus and how we handled it,” Martinez said in a statement. “The official with the Secret Service told me that we were the first municipality to detect this and destroy it on our own.”

Deerfield city staff disabled the virus last month before any harm resulted, a city spokeswoman said. In Deerfield, there haven’t been any reports of suspicious activity on customers’ credit cards.

In Margate, authorities still don’t know if it was a website that was hacked, or some other part of the payment process, Suarez said.

“We’re not sure [in] what step of the process the payments were compromised,” he said.

As a precaution, the city installed upgraded security features on its website that were completed this week, he said.

©2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.