Email scam targets college students

A common Internet scam  targeting tutors, babysitters and nannies has reached Butler University.

Butler University Police Department sent out a timely warning email to all students with a brief description of the scam on Feb. 27.

So far two Butler students have had prolonged contact with the scammers, but neither were hurt, said Bruce Allee, BUPD detective.

“This is a huge operation,” Allee said. “Even if these people are lucky and the scam goes through only five percent of the time, they are still making a great deal of money.”

The typical chain of events for this scam begins with an initial contact by someone who says he or she is interested in a service such as tutoring, music or art lessons, babysitting or nannying. The scammer then says he or she is out of the country and is making arrangements for his or her child in the area.

After typical arrangements are made regarding time and pay, the scammer will ask the contact to cash a check worth a few thousand dollars, which is sent to the contact by mail.

The hired person is told to keep his or her pay for the month and is essentially paid up front but is told to give the remaining amount of money to a family member who is watching after the child.

The scam is finished once the check is cashed or withdrawn. The check will turn out to be fraudulent, and the person scammed is then held responsible for the full amount of the check. The “family member” takes the money, and the scam is complete.

“This scam is not new,” Allee said. “It’s just becoming more common.”

Butler student Tomás Montesinos Costa went to BUPD last Monday after he began to question the arrangements made by the father of a girl he was supposed to tutor in Spanish.

Montesinos Costa was approached by a man named “Cally,” who found him on the Butler tutoring listserv.

“Cally” is the typical alias of these scammers, Allee said.

Montesinos Costa thought the situation seemed fairly typical until payment was discussed.

“This person told me he was a father whose daughter was attending school in Indianapolis while he was abroad for a short time,” Montesinos Costa said. “He even tried to make me become sensitive to the situation and their family by telling me sad stories.”

The scammer told Montesinos Costa that his wife had passed away and he “only had his daughter left.”

“He seemed like a very concerned parent,” Montesinos Costa said. “I think he was trying to introduce me to a very complicated and sad situation so that I wouldn’t question too much.”

When the scammer asked Montesinos Costa to cash a $2,600 check, he became suspicious.

The scammer told Montesinos Costa to keep his payment of $575 and give the rest to a “cousin” of the family.

“I didn’t understand at all why someone who had never met me would give me such a large check,” Montesinos Costa said. “When I asked why he couldn’t give me cash or send the check directly to the cousin, he gave me some dumb excuses. At that point, it was so easy to tell that this was a scam.”

Allee said the telltale signs of this scam are the name “Cally,” the strange instructions with money and upfront payment.

“It’s not typical for someone desiring tutoring or babysitting services to pay upfront or in a lump sum, especially before the services have even started,” Allee said.

Allee also said multiple addresses can be a sign of a scam.

“In Montesinos Costa’s case, the person was supposed to be abroad, but the check that was received was sent from New York City and had a San Antonio address on it,” Allee said.

Ben Hunter, executive director of public safety, said this operation is common at colleges all over the nation, so students should always be mindful when applying for a job or dealing with money.

“If a job offer looks too good to be true, it probably is,” Hunter said. “Always check out the references that a job lists, and if it looks suspicious, feel free to contact BUPD. We would be more than happy to investigate to figure things out.”

Montesinos Costa’s advice to any students who think they are being scammed is to avoid dealing with money at all.

“I know I just didn’t feel comfortable with such a big check from a stranger,” Montesinos Costa said.

Montesinos Costa also said he felt BUPD was helpful in dealing with the situation.

“BUPD couldn’t take much action against the scammers because a crime was never officially committed,” Montesinos Costa said, “but they helped me stop contact and prevented the scam from happening to others.

“If any student thinks they may be working with this scam, they should definitely go to BUPD right away.”

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