A local worker thought she was following orders from her boss, but she was really communicating with scammers who infiltrated her boss's email.
Scammers pose as a top company executive -and manipulate unsuspecting employees into sending money or releasing private employee information. According to the FBI it's a scam that steals billions of dollars from companies of every size.
Amy Murray just started a new job at a small non-profit in Thurston County. Family Education and Support Services in Olympia serves children, youth and families in need.
On her first day, before she even made it into the office, she got an email from her new boss: "Asking me if I was up for a task," Murray explained.
The email explained that Murray's boss was tied up off-site and needed her to buy gift cards for an agency client.
"This isn't something that's odd, like, out of the blue being asked of me," said Murray, who has a non-profit background. "In other jobs that I've had, I've done things like this."
As instructed, Murray purchased three gift cards at $400 each -- $1,200 of Murray's money.
"Because I didn't have access to a corporate credit card, I said that I could use my own money and then, you know, she could just reimburse me. I have faith in my employer, and so I just went ahead and did it," Murray said.
Another email instructed Murray to text photos of the gift card pin codes to the agency client.
"Within 20 minutes, one of my co-workers came up to me and said, 'You know, it's a scam,'" said Murray. "I was devastated. I was embarrassed. This was my first day on the job."
"We would never ask an employee to use their personal funds to help our organization," said FESS Executive Director Shelly Willis. "We're in the business of helping people, we certainly don't want to cause trauma to anyone, especial a new employee."
The FBI calls it an executive imposter scam.
"I do remember one of the first one's we ever got was a mid-sized company here in Seattle," said FBI Special Agent Ethan Via. "They got hit for about $300,000 . Luckily, we were able to get that money back."
Agent Via says in cases where wire transfers are involved, the FBI is sometimes able to intercept the money if they're notified within the first 48 to 72 hours. But in Murray's case the odds were against her getting her money back almost from the start.
"In that instance, it's pretty slim, because gift cards are so liquid and often times hard to trace," Via said.
Shelly Willis is dismayed, but determined to prevent others from being tricked.
"You know, as a small non-profit, we don't have $1,200 just lying around, and we work really hard to make what money we do have to help children, youth and families succeed," Willis said. "And if we can stop it from happening to someone else, great."
Despite the hardship, Family Education and Support Services in Olympia refunded Murray's $1,200.
"We don't want it to happen to anyone else. And I was grateful she was willing to talk to others about how to make sure this scam does not continue, " Willis said.
Before you respond to a boss's sudden email request for money or employee information- contact them independently and verify.
The FBI says also scrutinize the email and look for red flags, including improper grammar and uncharacteristic wording.
If you'd like to help Family Education and Support Services in their mission to serve local families, here's a link to more information about what they do, who they serve and what they need.