UNO Police warns students are being scammed out of their money
February 22, 2017
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According to the Federal Trade Commission, imposter scams are one of the top three categories for consumer complaints, with over 353,770 reported in 2015. Some of those people affected by such scams are students at the University of New Orleans.
University Police Investigator Susan Graham said, “Increasingly, UNO students are becoming victims of scams involving items they try to sell online or work-at-home schemes.”
According to Graham, at least one student each semester reports a fraud. She explained how the typical scheme is orchestrated:
“The person who contacts a student generally sends a check for thousands of dollars – more than they owed the student. They ask the student to deposit the check, keep their share, and wire the bulk of the money to a third party. The student’s bank then notifies the student that the deposited check was fraudulent. The student now owes their bank thousands of dollars.”
Though scams of this nature occur so often, they are hard to control.
“These cases usually originate overseas [and] involve persons using fake identities and are crimes which are impossible to solve. The telephone numbers used to contact the student are usually spoofed; the email addresses are from free servers who do not verify identity, and the checks are written on accounts the fraudsters have no authority to use,” said Graham.
While some may recognize a potentially fraudulent situation, others are not as fortunate. Groups thought to be more vulnerable are often targeted most, and scams against college students are on the rise.
Graham said, “Students fall for these scams because they are not aware of how prevalent scams can be. Sometimes, the student is from another country, and they don’t recognize the poor grammar; or they think this is how business is conducted in the U.S. And, of course, people are trusting and don’t like to believe they are vulnerable.”
However, there are ways to stay protected online and there are red flags to watch out for.
Graham said, “Never accept a check for more than you are owed. Never deposit a check and send money to another party. Talk to someone about the situation before you send money. Beware of offers to make more money than your peers. Beware of offers sent with improper use of the English language.”
She said students should also be suspicious when they are selling something and the buyer seems urgent or when they are looking for work and are hired without an interview.
In the case that a student does end up in troubled waters, there are certain steps that can be taken to try and tackle the situation.
“The first thing a student should do when they realize they are a victim is to stop sending money. Once you wire money, you will be asked to send more money. Secondly, attempt to stop payment on the wire transfer. Third, notify the police department. And finally, file a consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.”
Despite these steps, the outlook for recovering from such financial devastation can be dim.
“Although the Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority over these cases, the solvability rate is small. There is little which can be done to assist the students in recovering the money they have lost,” said Graham.
Even if the money can’t be recovered, the student still legally owes the bank. Though most financial institutions are willing to set up a payment plan, the victim may be criminally prosecuted if the money isn’t paid back.
“It is hard to see someone who is financially strapped be defrauded of thousands of dollars. It can take a long time to get out from under the debt to your financial institution. Worse yet, the names of people who are victimized are sometimes sold to other thieves so the victim is targeted again and again.”