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updated 7/19/2011 4:49:34 PM ET 2011-07-19T20:49:34

The theft of nearly $30,000 from the bank account of a small Maine town might have been prevented if the bank had acted sooner to a warning from a town administrator, the administrator claims.

The sum stolen may be mere pocket change compared to the hauls in other high-profile cybercrime thefts, but it highlights the growing threat small organizations with weak security face against sophisticated cybercriminals.

Confronted with robust defenses around corporate networks, online thieves have in recent years been directing their attention toward smaller, more vulnerable organizations.

In perhaps the best-publicized example, Patco Construction of Sanford, Maine, was fleeced out of roughly $345,000 in 2009. Its bank restituted some of the money, but successfully argued in court that the fact that Patco's own workplace computer were infected with malware designed to steal from bank accounts absolved the bank of full responsibility.

[When Online Accounts Are Robbed, Should Banks Pay?]

The current case takes place in another small Maine town, Eliot, just across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, N.H.

Security researcher Brian Krebs reported that on July 11 he had alerted the town controller of Eliot that the town's account was being compromised by Eastern European cybercriminals.

According to Krebs' report, the controller, Norma Jean Spinney, said she immediately alerted TD Bank, which handled the Eliot account, about the fraud in progress.

TD Bank, however, did not detect any suspicious transactions and took no action.

Three days later, TD Bank returned Spinney's call and told her more than $28,000 of the town's funds were gone as a result of fraudulent direct-deposit payroll transactions.

The town then temporarily shut down its account, the Seacoast Online reported.

Spinney did not return a call from SecurityNewsDaily for comment. TD Bank spokesperson Jennifer Morneau declined to comment on the matter "out of respect for our customer's privacy," she wrote in an email to SecurityNewsDaily.

Krebs said he had found out about the scheme from a "money mule," a possibly unwitting temporary assistant recruited to help thieves launder money. The mule told him that he had helped wire money from Eliot, a southwest Maine town near the New Hampshire border, to individuals in Ukraine.

This incident shines a light on the perilous relationship between banks and the small towns and companies they service, and cybercriminals whose sophisticated methods of attack leave the other parties at their mercy.

Last month the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council — the group that in 2005 established guidelines for online banking — updated its security protocols to try to address the advanced risks presented by modern cybercriminals.

However, Avivah Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Research of Potomac, Md., told Krebs that the new guidelines are a "wishy-washy political document."

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