Anonymous individuals are posing as university professors or other professionals and are trying to steal money from students under the guise of research or job opportunities. These individuals write fraudulent checks as a form of payment to students who do tasks for them.

Cal Poly Federal Credit Union Vice President Joy Tafarella said there were four students who fell victim to these attempts in the last month.

(Nicole Goss | The Poly Post)

A scam is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation” and fraud can be defined as “intentional pervasion of truth.”

Tafarella said a commonality to these scam attempts include students giving their information or login credentials to people pretending to be who they’re not. Students have been asked to purchase gift cards with their own money and send the scammer a picture of the card number. The scammer will then immediately use the gift card and write students a check as reimbursement.

She said banks will need a few days to clear checks, so it’s usually already too late once students realize fraud occurred and they’ve suffered a loss.

Chief Information Security Officer Carol Gonzales said students are their own best protection against falling victim to fraud and scams. Students should never click on strange links or trust the sender right away.

“Users are their best protection,” Gonzales said. “All we [the security team] can do is layer the protection.”

Gonzales is in the middle of implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) for faculty and staff when they log in to university accounts. MFA she defined, is a “security method used to confirm a user’s identity by requiring more than one factor (method) of identification for access to an application or computer system.”

Gonzales said this additional step will further protect against fraud and make sure the people accessing sensitive data pertaining to students or financial matters, really are who they say they are.

People should be on the lookout for emails from unknown individuals that don’t end in “cpp.edu” and always double check who’s sending the email, Gonzales said. She compared it to speaking to someone in real life.

“Just because they say it’s true [in an email], doesn’t mean it’s true,” Gonzales said.

These individuals pretend they’re doctors or professors looking for research assistants, but a quick background check will quickly prove it’s not true and no such person exists.

Gonzales warned against even opening suspicious emails. She said these individuals have technology that tells them whether a student has looked at an email. The student might not have fallen for the scam, but now the perpetrator knows the email account is active and can send multiple emails all trying to trick the student.

Officer Duarte of University Police said he gets an average of two fraud reports per week, but it’s hard to track down the perpetrators because the names and numbers used are always fake.

He said the same scams used on students at Cal Poly are used at Florida State University as well, so it’s not a university-specific problem with physical leads to follow.

He said students should be extra careful because banks don’t insure against these crimes. Victims are usually able-minded adults who consent to making a purchase.

“We’re going to be held accountable for our own actions,” Duarte said.

Tafarella said there are resources available for students to protect themselves from these attempts on the Cal Poly Pomona Federal Credit Union website.

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