Investigation underway after MacEwan University loses nearly $12M in phishing scam
Officials with MacEwan University said Thursday that some staff had fallen victim to an online fraud scam that led the university to transfer millions of dollars to a fraudster.
In a news release, officials said staff realized the university had been targeted on Wednesday, August 23. The university received a number of fraudulent emails, which convinced staff to change electronic banking information for one of the university’s major vendors.
The statement said $11.8 million was transferred to a fraudulent bank account as a result.
A spokesperson said despite the fraud, the university’s systems were not compromised, and personal and financial information and transactions made with the university are secure.
“We also want to emphasize that we are working to ensure that this incident will not impact our academic or business operations in any way,” spokesperson David Beharry said in a statement.
The fraudulent emails were received from an address believed to belong to the vendor and exchanged with university staff from late June into early August. Three separate payments were made: $1.0 million on August 10, $22,000 on August 17, $9.9 million on August 19.
“What happened was, a domain site with the authentic logo and everything was sent,” Beharry said. “The individual asked us to change the banking information from the vendor. That information was changed. We found out about the fraudulent transactions when the vendor contacted us to inquire about why they hadn’t received their payments.”
Once the fraud was discovered, officials pursued criminal and civil action in an effort to trace the funds and recover them.
Local police and law enforcement in Hong Kong and Montreal and the security units of banks involved with the e-transfers are working to resolve the criminal side of the case. More than $11.4 million of the funds had been traced to accounts in Canada and Hong Kong.
“A large portion of the funds has been traced,” Beharry said. “$6,347,000 was tracked to a TD account in Montreal that has been seized by a bailiff.
“Investigations revealed that the balance of the funds was wire-transferred from TD Bank in Canada to two accounts in Hong Kong. Civil proceedings have been initiated in Hong Kong, with a goal of freezing and recovering these funds.”
Controls have been put in place to prevent any incidents in the future, and an audit has been launched. Early assessments showed controls around vendor banking information were not enough, and a number of chances to identify fraud were missed.
Beharry said three staff members were involved in the case, but wouldn’t discuss details as it was still under investigation.
The Minister of Advanced Education and the Office of the Auditor General have been made aware of the incident.
UPDATE: A MacEwan University spokesperson told CTV News the vendor in this case is Clark Builders.