Hackers steal $7.5m in endowment funds from DC Jewish federation

US federal law enforcement investigating theft, while organization hires team of lawyers, cybersecurity experts to figure out what went wrong and try to recover the money

Illustrative image of a hacker and online fraud. (scyther5; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a hacker and online fraud. (scyther5; iStock by Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Hackers stole more than $7 million worth of endowment funds from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington this summer, the organization announced in an email Wednesday.

The theft took place months ago, when the entire staff was working from home due to coronavirus restrictions, the email said.

“Earlier this summer, while our staff and leadership were working from home due to COVID-19, malicious hackers targeted one agency fund of the United Jewish Endowment Fund of Greater Washington,” said the letter signed by Jewish Federation CEO Gil Preuss, Jewish Federation President Mark Levitt, and United Jewish Endowment Fund President Deborah Ratner Salzberg.

“This attack eventually diverted $7.5 million to international accounts, and we have been actively working with federal law enforcement authorities investigating this matter for several weeks.”

The United Jewish Endowment Fund is the planned giving and endowment arm of the DC-area federation chapter.

Preuss, Levitt and Salzberg told their members that, according to an internal investigation, no donor information or other agency funds, including those part of a COVID-19 emergency campaign, were compromised.

Still, the Jewish Federation leadership said it had retained the help of legal and cybersecurity experts to investigate the theft, including lawyers at major law firm Arnold and Porter, who are working on the case pro bono.

The organization also notified the banks and will be requiring all employees to undergo advanced cyber training.

Additionally, it brought in forensic accounting experts to perform an audit of their financial arrangements to ensure the security of the rest of the funds.

The email said that the DC Jewish Federation was filing a claim with its insurers to help recover the loss.

“The safety and well-being of every member of our community remains our top priority,” the three executives said in the statement. “We are taking every necessary step to ensure this remains an isolated incident.”

The loss comes at a difficult time for Jewish organizations across the US, which have been hard hit by the pandemic, slashing budgets and laying off staff.

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