UPD, U.S. Bank work to combat online scams

Analicia Haynes, Editor-in-Chief

The number of employment scams and online scams has increased this semester and the U.S. Bank branch on campus is teaming up with Eastern and the University Police Department to inform students about these scams and crack down on them. 

Lt. James Williams from UPD said the bank and university started to notice an increase in these online scams, which typically come in the form of an email that offers students a job, over the course of last semester.

But he said this semester there has been an “uptick” in the number of these emails sent to panthermail accounts and the number of students who have fallen victim to the scams.

“We started seeing (the scams) last semester (and) we would get them periodically throughout the school year, but it seems like at the end of last semester and into this semester we started seeing an uptick in online and fraud related scams involving students, and so we got together with the bank to try and come up with the solution to address those issues,” Williams said.

He said scam and fraud related and online related crimes are hard to investigate and harder to prosecute and that is why the UPD is working with the bank to try and educate students on what the scams are and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“The simplest solution (to avoiding the scam),” he said. “If it’s too good to be true, it is.”

U.S. Bank Branch Manager Elizabeth Medina echoed the same sentence when showing examples of the several fake checks she received from people this semester.

Medina said from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16 the bank received nine fraudulent checks from those who bank with U.S. Bank and those who do not. 

The checks are a result of a more popular scam, which Medina and Williams said is an employment scam.

Someone (they do not know a source because it is hard to trace) sends students an email with a job offer and tells them that they will send them a check for typically more than $1,000.

The student is then instructed to deposit the check, spend a certain amount of money on gift cards for instance (and it is usually hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards), send those gift cards to the “employer” and then they are told to keep the rest of the money.

Medina said those who respond to the email give out their information such as their address and receive a check a few days later. The fake checks have the same security features, the same watermarks, are printed with familiar banks such as PNC, Chase or even U.S. Bank on them, but Medina said the prints that banks use and therefore the scammers use can be purchased at any office supply store.

Although the checks look real, Medina pointed out several red flags that are commonly found on these fake checks that include anything form clear typos like spelling or having two different amounts written on the check to something a little harder to catch like having two strangers bring in two separate checks but those checks are in numerical order. 

Medina said when a student walks up to the counter with a big check and is issued from a company they do not recognize, the bank tellers will ask them where they got the check from, and she said 90 percent of the students will tell her while the others are a little hesitant.

Unfortunately, those who do tell her share the same story: they received the check from a person claiming to have worked at Eastern and need an assistant to handle their personal finances. 

Medina said they try to determine whether the check is fake and therefore try to help the students before they get into trouble, but when it does get deposited, that is where the problem becomes hard to get out of.

“Once you deposit the check and do what they’re asking you do, once you spend the money from that check and it bounces, it’s hard to help yourself,” Medina said. “You’re on the hook for all those purchases.”

At that point, after the check bounces, the student becomes responsible for the money that was on the check (i.e. $1,000) and they have to pay that money back to the bank.

Medina said what often happens is that the student ends up with a negative balance and they are reported for fraud, something she said follows students their whole lives.

“It’s tough,” Medina said, warning of the harm a bounced check worth that much money can do to a person’s financial status.

She said it affects financial aid, credit scores or whether or not someone can take out a loan.

Ultimately, she said she wants students to understand the severity of fraudulent checks, which is why she reached out to UPD.

Medina said the goal is to host seminars or lectures to help inform students not just of these potential frauds but of everything they need to know when it comes to their finances. She said ultimately what students need to do is ask for help. She recommended flagging the email and verifying it with the student employment office.

“I’m always willing to help,” she said, asking students to come to her or the U.S. Bank tellers with a suspicious check.

The one thing she wants students to remember: “Nobody is giving you free money.”

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]