FORT ATKINSON (WKOW) -- The way the Fort Atkinson Chamber of Commerce found out about scammers targeting local businesses was that its own staff was scammed on Monday.
"My own staff received emails from me, asking them to go buy gift cards," said executive director Carrie Chisholm.
But the email didn't come from Chisholm's email address and it was riddled with grammatical errors. Then, member businesses started contacting the chamber, wondering why certain board members were asking them to go buy gift cards for "charity donations."
"It was very tricky," said Chisholm.
Soon, they discovered the scammers had already successfully targeted three local businesses. On Friday, the phony emails showed up in inboxes of retail and service businesses in town, asking them to buy iTunes gift cards as a donation for a Lions Club fundraiser.
"They did, thinking that they were supporting a local charitable organization in the community," said Chisholm. "So it was very unfortunate."
Those businesses won't be able to get their money back, but chamber staff has notified the police so that they can build a case file.
Usually, law enforcement isn't able to do much about these cases. Once, the chamber tracked some scam emails back to Russia, which is out of local law enforcement jurisdiction.
It's an expensive lesson to learn for those three businesses, but one worth learning. Chisholm said it was unique that the scammers targeted businesses in this case, but believes it will become much more common over the next decade.
"It's not something a lot of people think about when they're putting together emergency plans." she said. "Our number one priority is to raise awareness, but also to encourage businesses to put an emergency plan in place for cyber security issues."
She said businesses can do many things to ensure they don't get scammed. This can include changing passwords quarterly or conducting training sessions with staff so that they know what the policies are in the community.
There are things staff should know, including how to report bad emails, finding if it has the appropriate software to prevent scams coming through and if they are running regular scans of that software.
"Those are the simple things, but when you think about what the dangers are of this long term, it's really important to have a comprehensive emergency plan in place for cyber security issues," she said.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection told 27 News it has not received reports of any similar scams in the area, but here is an online resource that explains what you can do if your business is approached by potential scammers.