Thieves apparently used a Nigerian-based scam to steal $2.5 million from the Utah treasury
, covering their tracks by using intermediaries and a church address.
Michael Kessler, president of Kessler International, a forensic accounting and investigation agency in New York City, said the thieves appear to have used a simple scam that originated in Nigeria about five years ago.
The Utah theft is the first time he's seen a government victimized.
"Their IT people should have known better
," Kessler said after reviewing a copy of the search warrant Thursday. "It sounds like any kid could have done this.
John Reidhead, the director of the Utah Division of Finance, on Wednesday said his division has added procedures to verify direct deposit information and made other changes to prevent future fraud.
The search warrant, made public this week, said someone in August obtained a vendor number for the University of Utah's design and construction department. They then forged the signature of the department's director and submitted paperwork to the state of Utah changing the department's bank account information.
Fraudsters logged onto a state Web site and submitted invoices to the state on behalf of the campus department. When the state paid the invoices, the money went to a Bank of America account in Texas.
The thieves reaped $2.5 million before the bank called the state
to inquire why such large payments were going to the account.
The search warrant says the Texas account was opened by a man with a Minnesota driver's license. The warrant also makes reference to a truck driver, and a search of business records shows another name in the search warrants has a registered trucking company in Arlington, Texas.
Kessler said the thieves may have recruited intermediaries to open the accounts and transfer the money. The account holders may not have participated in the theft itself or known where the money came from, Kessler said.
Once the money moved to Texas several checks were written to various people.
Attempts to contact any of the people listed in the search warrant as receiving or transferring money were unsuccessful.