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SOU Hit In $1.9 Million Email Scam

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Work continues on the Student Recreation Center and McNeal Pavillion project on the Ashland campus of Southern Oregon University. SOU officials were scammed of about $1.9 million in an email fraud scheme.

Southern Oregon University is -- at least for now -- out nearly $2 million. A sophisticated email scam conned school officials into paying a construction contractor’s invoice into a fraudulent bank account. 

In April, SOU got an email notification from Anderson Construction, the contractor building the Ashland campus’ McNeal Pavillion and Student Recreation Center project. Anderson requested the university to pay its spring invoice to a new bank account. Joe Mosley, SOU’s Director of Community and Media Relations, says that’s not a particularly unusual request.

"The process involves a review and verification and so forth," he says. "It’s intended to protect the university. That process was followed.”

But several days after the payment of about $1.9 million was sent, the contractor told SOU the money had never arrived. It quickly became clear that the Anderson email was a fake and that the money had been deposited into an account that wasn’t the contractor’s.

Law enforcement was notified and the fake account was frozen. Joe Mosley says the university hopes to recover at least some of the scammed cash.

"A portion of that money is still in the account," he says. "And SOU is going through the process right now of retrieving that money."

Mosley will say only that a “significant amount” of the money is still in the account.

The university is reviewing its verification procedures. Officials are also assessing whether insurance will cover some of the loss.

Mosley stresses that the construction fund is separate from other SOU accounts and that whatever the loss ends up being, it won’t affect students, staff or university functions. He says the construction project wont’ be affected, either.

The FBI says this type of scam costs American companies and institutions hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.