The Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) has fallen prey to a phishing scheme and as a result has had $2.3 million stolen from an account that was dedicated to helping President Donald Trump win the state in this year’s election, according to the party leader.
RPW Chairman Andrew Hitt said the party first saw suspicious activity on the account on October 22, after someone in the organization noticed invoices that were being sent to vendors were getting altered. After buying pro-Trump material such as hats or signs, the invoices were changed to deliver the funds to hackers instead of the vendors, Hitt explained.
“The sophisticated criminal began with a phishing attack,” Hitt told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Once in the system, they were able to manipulate information in our emails and on invoices and documents that then resulted in them obtaining $2.3 million.”
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No other information or data appears to have been stolen from the party, Hitt added.
A phishing scam is when someone uses “email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information,” according to the Federal Trade Commission website. Hackers “may try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts.”
The Madison field office of the FBI is currently investigating the matter.
Courtney Beyer, a spokeswoman with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW), said that her party is often attacked by similar phishing schemes — as many as 800 such attempts were made against the DPW in this election cycle alone, she noted. None of those attacks were successful.
In spite of the huge sum of money stolen with less than a week to go before the 2020 elections, the RPW still has resources at its disposal to carry on its plans for helping Trump win the state. The national Republican Party is also providing some help.
“We have been in contact with the state party and are assisting them through this process,” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “The RNC never left Wisconsin after 2016, and we are confident that our ground game and the millions we are spending on TV and digital will deliver us another win there in 2020.”
Wisconsin is considered a battleground state, but recent polling data has consistently shown Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a small lead ahead of Trump.
Along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin was viewed as being crucial in helping Trump win the Electoral College in 2016, but the vote in the Badger State that year was very close, with the difference between Trump and that year’s Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, being less than a single percentage point.
The race for governor in 2018 was also close, with Democratic candidate Tony Evers defeating Republican Gov. Scott Walker by similarly tight margins.