Nearly $100,000 was stolen from a Calgary minor hockey association in an email scam last month.
In early January, the McKnight Hockey Association’s treasurer got an urgent email request for a transfer of funds that she thought was approved by the board.
The treasurer got the impression from the email that the president and vice president of the association had verified the transaction, so the funds were released through a wire transfer that didn’t need signing authority.
“Our treasurer believed she was answering emails and communicating between myself and the president of the association….asking her to wire some money,” said Srecko Zizakovic, vice president of the McKnight Hockey Association. “So I was quite shocked to hear that I had somehow authorized the release of almost $145,000. I almost had a heart attack on the spot.”
The organization said there was enough information passed back-and-forth in the email chain between the treasurer and email scammers, that it masked the actual email addresses of the president and vice president of McKnight.
Similar cases suggest it’s a scam called “spoofing,” were the criminals create email messages with a forged sender address – which misleads the victim about the real origin of the message. Fortunately, around $45,000 was recovered after the incident.
Parents attending a McKnight Novice practice on Saturday were frustrated with the news of their fundraising dollars being stolen.
“Disappointed that someone would take advantage of kids hockey and amateur sports,” Mike Perkins said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have adequate policies and procedures to stop something like this from happening.”
Calgary Police and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) continues to investigate.
“I would suggest that if you suspect anything, if it doesn’t smell right and it doesn’t feel right, you should be phoning the police and letting us know what’s going…we can only respond to these things if we know what’s happening,” Deputy police chief Sat Parhar said.
According to Hockey Calgary, several other local hockey organizations were also targeted.
Alberta’s Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley is urging people to speak out about the theft scam.
“There are certainly some indication that people are embarrassed to come forward to talk about these things but I think it’s important to be reporting them, so that law-enforcement authorities can be aware of what is going on because this is quite a pervasive type of crime,” Ganley said.
The McKnight Hockey Association board sent a message to its members on their website explaining the situation, saying they are still hopeful that insurance will cover the loss. The statement read, “we are reviewing all of our policies pertaining to our processes with respect to any financial matters, as well as a full review of our current insurance policies.”
“The old adage, to catch a thief think like a thief. The problem is with most of us volunteers that are working in these organizations, we tend not to think like thieves. We think like people that care about our communities and our associations in sports and other organizations, helping kids and the elderly and doing the right thing,” Zizakovic said. “You wouldn’t think you would be targeted but I think vigilance has to be high. If the red flag goes up you need to follow up with it right away.”
“The only danger is of course that these guys who are doing this spoofing and other cyber crimes, they are always on the go. They are always thinking about the next scam and where is the loophole. So you have to be as vigilant as they are to keep up with these things,” Zizakovic said.