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The Municipality of Westlake-Gladstone lost close to half-a-million dollars late last year and that money is still missing from local taxpayers.
The money was taken in what municipality chief administrative officer Coralie Smith described as a "cyber attack" between December 2019 and early January 2020. She said she only discovered it on Jan. 6 when she went to print monthly bank statements.
The municipality still doesn’t know how the money was taken or who is responsible, Smith said.
"To date, we still have no resolution for it," she said, adding the $447,000 was taken in 47 separate withdrawals of approximately $10,000 each.
The municipal council met with representatives of Stride Credit Union, who the account is with, in January but the credit union didn’t flag the unusual transactions when they were taking place, Smith said. A media release from the municipality says they do not use online banking for transferring or withdrawing money.
"In reality, 10 months have gone by and we don’t have our money back yet," Smith said. "They just tell me that they can’t track the money, where it went."
The media release says the municipality has hired a lawyer to find out why the credit union didn’t notify them of the unusual transactions and to work with the institution to get more information on what happened.
The Sun reached out to Stride Credit Union CEO Brent Budz for comment on the issue. A media release forwarded by Budz says the credit union was not consulted before the municipality issued its own news release.
"The News Release contains information about our involvement with these events that is both inaccurate and untrue. We are surprised and alarmed by a number of the claims that have been made by the Municipality and the position that it has taken in the News Release," it reads.
"Despite the suggestions in the News Release to the contrary, as soon as we became aware of these events, Stride began working closely with the Municipality, its IT specialists, and the RCMP to help determine how the funds were withdrawn from its account and to attempt to recover the funds.
"We are constantly monitoring our online banking system to minimize and prevent cyber-fraud and to keep our members’ privacy and money safe."
The RCMP was first notified of the transactions on Jan. 7, 2020 and it was investigated by the RCMP commercial crimes and major crimes unit, according to spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine.
The money was transferred out of the country and transferred to bitcoin, but Courchaine said she could not elaborate on what happened. Unless further information comes to light in the complicated file, she said the RCMP has concluded the investigation and it remains unsolved.
While the Municipality of Westlake-Gladstone has insurance for cyber fraud, Smith said the insurance claim has so far been denied.
"The Association of Manitoba Municipalities negotiates insurance policies on behalf of municipalities in Manitoba, it clearly states we have cyber insurance and we pay that premium, but the insurance company doesn’t want to come forward with anything," she said.
A statement from an Association of Manitoba Municipalities spokesperson says the association is aware of the issue and the insurance broker is still evaluating the claim.
"In order to make this determination, the municipality has been asked to provide additional details. Until the required information has been provided by the municipality it would be premature to comment publicly any further," the statement reads.
The $447,000 lost from the account is a significant amount of money and has meant the Municipality of Westlake-Gladstone has had to draw from its line of credit, Smith said.
"Now it’s costing a little bit of extra money because we have to pay interest on that line of credit," she said.
The municipality has also hired a "national computer security expert" to review the computer logs of both the municipality and Stride Credit Union. Initial investigations show the money was sent to Toronto then out of Canada.
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
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