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Cyber Thieves Targeted Federal Funding to Universities, including New Mexico Tech

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 5, 2009 – New Mexico Tech was one of several victims of cyber criminals who hacked into the federal government’s computer system in spring 2008.

Tech financial officers first discovered missing funds in early April. Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez said his staff discovered discrepancies during a routine accounts receivable analysis. After trading phone calls with the federal agencies responsible for delivering the funds, New Mexico Tech campus police were notified. Campus police then notified the proper authorities.

The subsequent investigation uncovered more than $2 million in diverted federal funding intended for several universities across the country.

Marquez said the culprits never hacked into New Mexico Tech’s computer system, but were successfully able to penetrate the government electronic funds transfer system’s computers.

The Albuquerque Journal cited a federal search warrant in the January 4, 2009, edition, which described in detail how criminals used stolen identities to create fictitious bank accounts. The criminals then convinced banks that Tech had a new routing number for its bank accounts and successfully diverted federal payments away from universities.

Marquez said Tech has identified $204,000 that the federal government intended to deliver electronically to the university, but was diverted. The funds were from several different federal agencies.

So far, New Mexico Tech has recovered $161,000 of the $204,000 and is in the process of trying to recover the balance.

– NMT –