PPS recovers $2.9M transferred to fraud account

Multnomah County

Officials said the employees weren't involved in the crime

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public Schools employees mistakenly transferred $2.9 million to an account posing as a contractor but district officials said Tuesday there were able to get all of the money back.

PPS officials declined an on-camera interview with KOIN 6 News, but Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said the district was made aware of the fraudulent transaction on Friday by Wells Fargo.

They said money was transferred “to a fraudulent account designed as the account of a legitimate PPS construction contractor.”

pps superintendent guadalupe guerrero 08242018_1535148349056.jpg.jpg

Once the mistake was realized, Guerrero said, they immediately began working with their bank, the Portland police and the FBI.

But they’re not saying much about exactly how this happened.

Cybersecurity experts said scammers can go to great lengths to find out enough information about your company to seem legitimate.

“There are the more sophisticated scams which are really just fraud using computers, where a criminal organization might do a bit of research and send you an email that looks like it’s coming from your boss to an accounting department,” said Charlie Kawasaki, PacStar CTO and the vice chair of the Oregon Cybersecurity Advisory Council. “It can say ‘Hey, can you very quickly perform a wire transfer for us? We forgot to pay our bill’ and so someone in a hurry in the middle of the day or the middle of the week might then fall for that when it looks like it’s coming from your boss.”

Charlie Kawasaki, the vice chair of the Oregon Cybersecurity Advisory Council, August 20, 2019 (KOIN)

In his statement to parents and students, Guerrero said: “All district payment procedures and internal controls are being reviewed, additional protocols and actions have already been identified, and all district finance staff will receive mandatory, updated training this week to reinforce protocols and to ensure updated procedures are in place to prevent incidents like this from occurring.”

They said they’ll follow their own internal review with an outside investigation by cybersecurity experts.

Two employees who were involved in the transaction have been placed on administrative leave, but there is no indication that they were involved with the crime.

PPS officials believe this was all an outside fraud but are doing a thorough investigation to be sure.

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