When he sat down in the Student Center to read the latest edition of the Sonoma State STAR on Wednesday, freshman Steffan Grace came across an advertisement offering a flexible position as someone’s “personal assistant.”
The advertisement lacked significant details such as the employer’s name and the exact tasks the job required.
In its description, the ad said applicants should have basic computer skills and good organization, qualities almost anyone would describe themselves as having. The starting pay was listed at $250 a week, a lucrative offer most college students would find tempting for a part-time job that only takes several flexible hours a week.
Upon responding to the advertisement, Grace was sent several thousands of dollars in checks from someone claiming to be a small business owner named Tracy Jefferson. He was given the instructions to deposit the checks, take out a small amount of cash as personal payment, and wire the rest of the money to an unspecified bank account. He wisely assessed the situation as suspicious and reported the checks to Sonoma State University Police Services.
“At first I thought this personal assistant position would be the perfect job to balance with my responsibilities as a student,” said Grace. “Tracy Jefferson seemed like a really nice guy, he said he was a small business owner with a sports equipment store in Virginia. However, when I got the checks from him and saw how large they were ,I knew something was wrong.”
Grace’s case is not unique, college students and employees are often targets of scams involving fraudulent checks. Scamlaws.com reports fraudulent checks make up roughly 5 percent of scamming complaints annually, the largest categories were online auctions and falsified emails.
According to a recent public service announcement from the Police and Safety Services, scammers have several techniques used in tricking their victims. This includes emails and phone calls where the perpetrator pretends to be the phone company or bank and calls regarding an “unauthorized transaction,” and requests personal information.
In cases such as this, one should hang up and call back their bank or phone company and inquire whether such a transaction really did occur.
On college campuses scammers will often send checks or emails fraudulently using the name of the university. Many students and college employees fall victim to this type of scam because they overlook the suspicious qualities of a check or email if it appears to come from the school.
Corporal LeRoy Swicegood of Police Services said, “Be careful in dealing with people you don’t know online or otherwise. If they make you an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone sends you, a complete stranger, a check for thousands of dollars, than they are being far more trusting than any rational person would. Definitely a red flag.”
Swicegood also said how scammerss often play on the emotions of people who want to be kind and help out.
In the case of the website Care.com scammers often put out advertisements on the website looking for help in caring for children, the disabled, elderly or mentally challenged family members. When people responded to the ads, they would then be sent checks under the false pretense that the employers were so grateful for their help that they wanted to send them an advanced payment.
At this point the victim of the scam usually feels grateful and trusting of the scammers who they believe to be people in need of assistance. So when they are asked to cash larger sums of money in the future and send the money back to the scam artist, they don’t perceive it as suspicious.
According to ABC 7 news, San Francisco State student Lauren Wells fell victim to a scam through Care.com. Wells worked part time at Whole Foods Market but still needed extra money so she signed up with Care.com to look for babysitting jobs when she found an exciting offer for $28 an hour.
The woman who put out the advertisement told Wells a heartbreaking story about how she recently lost her husband and baby in a car accident, and needed help with her disabled son. Wells applied for the job and was immediately accepted. $3,000 was sent to her with the instructions to keep $300 and use the rest to purchase a wheelchair for the woman’s disabled son.
After giving the money to a fake wheelchair company, Wells never heard from the woman again. She was out $3,000 and owed all of it to the bank.
It’s important to know steps can be taken to protect oneself from being the victim of scams. One can place their number on a “Do Not Call List” that is found online. Always call the bank or other places of business if receiving unexpected checks.
Track your spending with online banking and set up alerts for suspicious activities. Never give out personal information such as date of birth, social security number, bank account numbers, passwords, pin, etc. over the phone.