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From Dorms to Doghouse

It should have been an exciting time, full of promise, anticipation and joy. Afterall, Claire was ready to graduate from college.

Instead, the heroine of this story was filled with anxiety and undeserved shame. Claire, who attends school in Spokane, was willing to share her story to help others but asked us not to use her last name to protect her identity.

Like many nefarious scams, Claire’s story started with a simple email. A senior in college, she was excited to transition into the full-time workforce but first opted to look for a part-time job while finishing up her schooling. The email came out of the blue, straight to her college email address, at just the right time. It was an offer for a part-time job, pet-sitting.

The emailer identified himself as David Shain, an alumnus from the same university Claire was attending. “Shain” used the alleged university connection as a means of establishing his bona fides. The lengthy email included a lot of other seemingly personal information. He wrote that he was now an auditor in Canada and was reaching out to students on behalf of his “Aunt Mary,” who was relocating to Spokane, Washington. “Mary” was partially deaf and needed a weekly pet sitter for her two small dogs. She was willing to pay $400 per week. Claire bit.

The next email came quickly. It was allegedly from “Aunt Mary,” who requested basic employee-type information about Claire, such as her age, address, phone number and days she was able to work. Claire ultimately “got the job.” Yay, a paycheck that would keep Claire’s finances liquid through graduation until she could get a job in the “real world.”

Then, “Aunt Mary” advised Claire to expect a check for $2,870 in the mail. This would cover “grooming items, new furniture and home décor” to be overseen by another family member. Claire was instructed to take $400 from this check for her first week’s pay and send the rest to a “clerk” who would have the items ready for Mary’s arrival in Spokane.

Yeah, you see where this is going. Scammers don’t care who you are, what your financial situation is or how much the scam will hurt. Their calls, emails or text messages are the knife’s edge of a huge problem in this country that devastates young and old alike.

Those, like Claire, who are brave enough to speak up and report these scammers do the rest of us a great service, offering a cautionary glimpse into their experience. Just like Claire, anyone, anywhere, at any time can be scammed — and we all need to pay attention.

When the check arrived, Claire deposited it into her credit union account through an ATM. “Aunt Mary” instructed her to send the other $2,470 in cash, along with a magazine, using FedEx next-day air with signature service to the “clerk’s” address. Once the money was sent, Claire never heard from “Aunt Mary” again.

Claire waited. It’s common in these instances for banks to hold a check for up to seven days. This was not the case. The bank released the funds to Claire before the check actually cleared.

Claire was excited for her new job as a pet sitter, but on that day, her life changed. The new college graduate is now on the hook for the cash. Fraught with anxiety, Claire was faced with a new reality that affected not just her bank account but her final months of school.

“I won’t be able to cover my living expenses two months out from this occurrence,” said Claire, adding that she has car bills that need to be covered and is worried that she’ll have no cushion in savings for emergency situations.

She’s spent hours looking for ways to track down the perpetrator(s) who vanished. Though Claire tries to maintain a positive mindset, she feels “used and abused.”

Claire, who said she’s losing hope on getting financially reimbursed, feels frustrated with both her credit union and her university over what they did and didn’t do and feels there’s an overall lack of information available to help students to avoid this kind of situation. While information on a variety of scams is provided by organizations such as Better Business Bureau, Claire, like so many others, didn’t think about looking for this information until after she was a victim.

She thinks students would benefit from schools integrating fraud protection education into curriculum.

“That’s something that high schoolers who are starting to get a job need to be educated about,” she said.

Claire says university students, who are often on their own for the first time, also need to be educated.

“This is real. They need to have examples of other victims, be shown ways that people are being targeted and how to react,” she said, noting that the younger generation doesn’t know or understand the old ways of check fraud and that it’s easy for them to be taken in by employment scams since they generally do not recognize the “red flags.” Claire also believes the university let her down. First, she approached the IT department and was told this phishing email “slipped through.” Then, she says the school did send out an email, warning students of the potential scam, but it landed in many students’ spam folders, so they never saw it. Claire also learned this was one of many emails targeting students who are desperate for cash.

Claire’s difficult lesson is a cautionary tale for others like her: When looking for a job during the school year or after you have graduated, make sure you take the time to research. If a company wants a fee to work, there is a good chance this is a scam. If an employer wants you to send them money, it’s a scam. Get contract details in writing. These are just a few red flags.

Claire will live with her frustration and violation of trust for a long time, but you don’t have to; instead, be prepared.

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Written by Tyler Russell

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