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Crooks siphon $644,000 from school district's bank account

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New York City's Department of Education was defrauded out of more than $644,000 by hackers who targeted an electronic bank account used to manage petty cash expenditures, investigators said.

The DOE's small item payment process account at JPMorgan Chase was supposed to be limited to purchases of less than $500, but an oversight by officials allowed electronic transfers of any amount, according to investigators who probed the theft. The crooks were able to perpetrate the scam for more than three years because education officials didn't bother to reconcile account statements on a regular basis.

“It is difficult to understand how the DOE accumulated years of account statements, reflecting hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent to pay bills, but did not review them,” the report, which was written by Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, stated. “A cursory examination would have shown that the charges were not normal school expenses.”

The individual who headed the theft was Albert Attoh, who in April was sentenced to 364 days in federal prison after pleading guilty to Bank Larceny. He was also ordered to pay more than $275,000 in restitution and be on probation for two years following his release.

According to the report, Attoh provided the account and routing information to others so they could use it to pay student loans and invoices for purchases at Home Depot and other retail outlets. In return, Attoh demanded cash payments. Because DOE officials failed to block the use of electronic transfers, the account was wide open. All that was required what the account number and the bank routing number.

The scheme started in October 2003 and only came to the attention of officials in February 2007 when Chase received a tip that someone was trying to pay bills using the DOE account. In all, $644,313.69 was stolen, but $128,228.49 was eventually recovered. A PDF of the report is here. ®

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