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Illustration by Security Management

Cyber Thieves Scam $1 Million From Philadelphia Food Charity

Philadelphia area hunger relief organization Philabundance was the target of a cyberattack that cost the charity group almost $1 million.

In early July, the city area’s largest hunger-relief organization issued a payment for what they believed was a construction bill for its $12 million food-service training center project, Philabundance Community Kitchen. Weeks after the payment of $923,533 was wired to a fraudulent account, the company responsible for the project’s construction reached out with a legitimate inquiry about its missing payment.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the person or persons behind the theft initiated a successful phishing scam earlier in the year, allowing them access to the nonprofit’s computer systems and set up a block against legitimate emails. Finally, the spoofing email, which was designed to appear to be an invoice from the construction company, was sent and payment was approved by employees in the nonprofit’s finance office.

According to the organization’s CEO, Loree Jones, who took over in June, the thieves did not use their access to collect employee or donor data.

Jones also added that since discovering the theft, Philabundance hired a cybersecurity expert for assistance in increasing controls, employee awareness, and additional protections.  

According to The NonProfit Times, the organization is working with the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department, as well as conducting an internal investigation.

The group was able to make remaining construction payments by dipping into reserve funds. The project, which was completed and later opened in September, offers food-service training to low- or no-income persons with little or informal work experience.

Throughout the pandemic, Philabundance has seen increasing demands on its services. Between March and October, the organization provided aid to an estimated 134,807 people weekly, a bump up from its 2019 fiscal year, when it provided assistance to 54,739 individuals weekly. The organization reported $58 million in revenue by the end of its 2019 fiscal year, with more than $38 million coming from food donations.

In a media statement, Jones said, “In this pandemic, the hunger crisis in the Philadelphia region has grown to unprecedented dimensions. …And we are serving far more people than we have in years past.”

This holiday season, the Inquirer reported, donations were falling short in the face of the demand food charities like Philabundance were experiencing, exacerbated by the stress on the pandemic. The economic hardships that many communities and families have experienced this year has resulted in a decrease in those able to support charities, whether by donating food or money.