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Hackers Target Bank Accounts of Ardmore, Okla., Citizens Who Auto Pay Their Water Utility Bill

The hacking resulted in stolen money being funneled to a shell company called Maximum Data, which conveniently only existed the day of the hack.

(TNS) -- Ardmore, Okla., officials are investigating a hack that compromised the bank accounts of 613 Ardmore Utilities Service users.

The hack took place on April 25 and targeted the accounts of citizens who have their water utilities automatically withdrawn from their account. Hackers attempted to charge citizens for the usual cost of their utility bill.

"We have not ascertained how yet, but the information that included the account numbers was included (in the breach)," Ardmore IT Director Robert Newell said. "We audited our system and didn't find a breach on our system. As a precaution we've hired a third party to conduct another audit. Banks were notified and, to our knowledge, every individual has been rectified."

City officials notified all citizens who they suspect may have been breached, but individuals are encouraged to check their bank statements to be sure their accounts weren't compromised.

The hack potentially impacted a total of 20,000 people across an unknown area.

Newell said the city has asked all of its upstream partners to do an internal audit as well in an attempt to find where the system was breached. Upstream partners are those who move transitions through the world. These can be wiring services for banks or the banks themselves. When someone pays a bill online or gets money out of an ATM, a wiring service then transfers the money from one bank to the next. This system creates a string of companies and people who are in some way connected.

"We're so connected now," Newell said. "Hackers just keep growing in their ability and we're doing everything we can to stay ahead of them. But there will always be smart people who want to hurt others."

The stolen money was funneled to a shell company called Maximum Data, which conveniently only existed the day of the hack.

Ardmore's tech department spent two weeks trying to poke holes in their own system but were unsuccessful. In an effort to be sure they didn't miss a weak spot the city hired an outside firm to attempt to hack the city. The firm's results won't be available for a couple of weeks. City officials expect the reports will come back showing the city's system is solid.

In their regular meeting Monday, city commissioners voted to close the city's bank account as a precaution, and open two new accounts in an effort to better protect city funds from future attacks. Officials assured citizens that none of the cities funds were compromised in the hack and the switch was merely a precaution.

Newell said the city hopes to find those who carried out the hack, but the odds are not in their favor.

"Ninety-five percent of cases don't result in finding the individual," Newell said. "We want the citizens of Ardmore to know we are doing our best to protect their funds."

Ardmore officials have been investigating the breach for two weeks, and think it could take months to finish the investigation.

©2017 The Daily Ardmoreite, Okla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.