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Students fall victim to too good to be true email scams

May 21, 2012

When athletic training freshman Shelly Bennett received a check in the mail for $3,500, she thought it was too good to be true.

But it wasn’t until she lost more than $3,000 of her own money, she realized she was right.
Bennett was a victim of one of several overpayment email scams that have been defrauding members of the student body, including the most recent scheme sent via email on May 9.

Titled “Get paid weekly as a personal assistant,” the email was addressed to students to invite them to aid a company in processing checks and was signed under a false contact from the Michigan State University Human Resources Affairs.

Students who accepted the job were mailed a check for a large amount of money and instructed to take their salary out of the check. Despite the seemingly real companies, the checks are fraudulent and would not be accepted at ATMs.

The real MSU Human Resources sent an email to students on Friday, informing them of the scam and that Human Resources did not send it.

Communications Manager Bethany Balks said the department was unaware of the scam email until last Wednesday, when a concerned student asked Human Resources about it.

“We didn’t know of the email beforehand (because) it appears it went to student email accounts and not staff email accounts,” she said.

Balks said the department immediately began researching the scam and working with MSU Police to get a warning out to the students. Because spam emails are sent to MSU email accounts frequently, the Career Services Network also has released information online accessible for students to learn more about potential scams, she said.

In Bennett’s experience, she received an email during winter break and believed it to be a response to an application she filled out on MySpartanCareer. She replied and accepted the job.

“It really sounded legit,” she said. “Whoever this guy was did a great job of making it seem (real).”

Bennett said the scammer sent a check for $3,500 to her by FedEx — which she later realized was because it is illegal to send fraudulent checks in the U.S. Postal Service — and she deposited it in her bank account. Her scammer instructed her to take $300 as her salary and use $200 to wire the remaining $3,000 to another person in exchange for a few iPhones and laptops.

Bennett said she spent her salary on books and the next morning, her bank called to tell her the check was fraudulent and she had a negative balance of about $300.

She reported it to MSU police and when Bennett took more of her financial aid to pay the fees, she said workers at the office were not surprised, and said the same incident happened to a few other students.

According to MSU police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor, there were two separate incidents of the email scam reported between the week of May 9 and May 18 by two female students, one 20 and one 21.

The first victim cashed a check for $3,900 and lost approximately $3,500 of her own money. The second cashed a check for $3,700 and lost about $3,343.

After her experience, Bennett said she doesn’t expect to get her money back, but won’t fall for an email scam again, and advises other students to keep a watchful eye.

“Just don’t open emails that you don’t know who they’re from,” Bennett said. “It’s just going to probably (deceive) you most of the time and it’s not worth it at all.”

McGlothian-Taylor said the incidents still are under investigation by MSU police officer Brandon Murphy.

“If it looks too good to be true, it usually is,” McGlothian-Taylor said.

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