Suspect hacks Northwest University, steals $60,000

The scammer had been watching email communications prior to theft.

Northwest University in Kirkland is out $60,000 after a recent online scam.

According to President Joseph Castleberry, a scammer broke into the college’s email security and redirected emails to him/herself after changing payment instructions on an invoice and sending them to the Northwest University accounts payable department.

“Northwest University, like so many other businesses these days, fell victim to a cyber-crime, a phenomenon that is growing on a monthly basis,” Castleberry said in a school-wide email. “We are taking steps to safeguard the university and maximize our cybersecurity.”

Cpl. Cody Mann with Kirkland police said the report of the scam came in early late February/early March. The suspect(s) were watching email communications and had “intimate knowledge” of payables and receivables at the school, he said. Posing as the school’s Chief Financial Officer John Jordan, the suspect then “authorized” a female employee to send approximately $64,000 to a routing number.

“She thought she was doing the right thing,” Mann said. “She didn’t know through the routing number where [the money] was going.”

That routing number was to another woman’s bank account the suspect, posing as Jordan, had established a fake online dating relationship with. The suspect told the out-of-state woman he/she was “dating” that he/she needed to leave the country for business, and asked her for a favor to transfer money into his account.

That woman has been cooperating with police. Mann said they are treating her as more of a victim than a suspect because she didn’t understand a scam was happening at the time.

Neither Jordan nor the school knew a scammer was using his email or that it was fake until months ago when they realized their Jordan wasn’t sending specific emails.

“Based off the investigation, it would have been very reasonable to believe it was a legitimate email,” Mann said of the fake email account. “It had his email, it was his email when it showed up on the screen.”

Earlier news reports said Jordan’s email account was hacked and that all victims were contacted through a dating app when asked to transfer the money.

But that wasn’t true, Castleberry asserted.

“I want to communicate to you, that while we did suffer an email hack and indeed lose $60,000 to cyber-crime, it was not John’s email that was hacked, nor was he using dating apps,” Castleberry wrote.

Mann said it’s important for people to realize how prevalent a scam such as this is and that no one should ever wire funds to someone they’ve never met in person.

Police are still actively investigating the case and are working with multiple agencies.