Organized hackers in Ukraine and Russia stole more than $1 million from a public hospital in Washington state earlier this month. The costly cyberheist was carried out with the help of nearly 100 different accomplices in the United States who were hired through work-at-home job scams run by a crime gang that has been fleecing businesses for the past five years.
Last Friday, The Wenatchatee World broke the news of the heist, which struck Chelan County Public Hospital No. 1, one of several hospitals managed by the Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth, Wash. The publication said the attack occurred on Apr. 19, and moved an estimated $1.03 million out of the hospital’s payroll account into 96 different bank accounts, mostly at banks in the Midwest and East Coast.
On Wednesday of last week, I began alerting the hospital that it had apparently been breached. Neither the hospital nor the staff at Cascade Medical returned repeated calls. I reached out to the two entities because I’d spoken with two unwitting accomplices who were used in the scam, and who reported helping to launder more than $14,000 siphoned from the hospital’s accounts.
Jesus Contreras, a 31-year-old from San Bernadino, Calif., had been out of work for more than two months when he received an email from a company calling itself Best Inc. and supposedly located in Melbourne, Australia. Best Inc. presented itself as a software development firm, and told Contreras it’d found his resume on Careerbuilders.com. Contreras said the firm told him that he’d qualified for a work-at-home job that involved forwarding payments to software developers who worked for the company’s overseas partners.
Could he start right away? All he needed was a home computer. He could keep eight percent of any transfers he made on behalf of the company. Contreras said he was desperate to find work since he got laid off in February from his previous job, which was doing inventory for an airplane parts company.
His boss at Best Inc., a woman with a European accent who went by the name Erin Foster, called Contreras and conducted a phone interview in which she asked about his prior experience and work-life balance expectations. In short order, he was hired. His first assignment: To produce a report on the commercial real estate market in Southern California. Contreras said Ms. Foster told him that their employer was thinking of opening up an office in the area.
On Monday, Apr. 22 — shortly after he turned in his research assignment — Contreras received his first (and last) task from his employer: Take the $9,180 just deposited into his account and send nearly equal parts via Western Union and Moneygram to four individuals, two who were located in Russia and the other pair in Ukraine. After the wire fees — which were to come out of his commission — Contreras said he had about $100 left over.
“I’m asking myself how I fell for this because the money seemed too good to be true,” Contreras said. “But we’ve got bills piling up, and my dad has hospital bills. I didn’t have much money in my account, so I figured what did I have to lose? I had no idea I would be a part of something like this.”
A small, but significant part, as it happens. Contreras never got to use any of his meager earnings: His financial institution, Bank of America, froze his account and seized what little funds he had in it.
Meanwhile, the Chelan County treasurer’s office is struggling to claw back the fraudulent transfers. According to press reports, roughly $133,000 of the lost funds have been recovered so far, and it may take at least 30 days to learn how much was actually lost.