When an email arrived in students' inboxes offering $300 a week for advertising with an adhesive sticker on a car, seniors Jack Reynolds and Emma Thomas jumped at the opportunity to earn extra money with little work.
It quickly became clear that this opportunity was a scam and could have cost both of them, or any other student, a lot of money.
Both Thomas and Reynolds said they immediately searched the marketing company, Acosta, and found the company’s website to be legitimate. Reynolds said he then had become suspicious of the fact that this global marketing agency had sent such unprofessional and informal correspondence. Slightly deterred but still interested, he had determined he had nothing to lose by pursuing the offer further.
“The passive nature of the job opportunity immediately attracted me," Reynolds said. "It wouldn’t have required a change to my lifestyle at all."
Thomas and Reynolds said they soon had noticed how vague the details about the position were and they had begun to believe there could be something shifty about this offer.
Jeffery Oldman, the contact, was inconsistent with his communication and his unprofessional tone remained. Thomas said she had continued with the process until she had felt uneasy about the legitimacy of the position and Oldman himself.
“The big turning point for me was that I was being ignored when I asked for a contract,” Thomas said. “He would try and divert the conversation to something else before eventually not responding.”
Reynolds said he then had proceeded further with the application, eventually receiving a check for $5,000, which he was told to bank and use to pay the person who would install the sticker onto the side of the vehicle. This was when Reynolds said he had been certain that it was a scam.
Upon hearing of this situation, Beth Simonds, assistant chief of police, understood what was happening immediately. The University Police Department has seen many variations of wire transfer scams, Simonds said.
“It takes only a few days for your bank to make the money available to you, but it can take weeks for your bank to determine that a check is a fake,” Simonds said. “You are responsible for any check you deposit. When a check turns out to be a fake, you have to pay the bank back.”
Fortunately, Reynolds did not cash the check and informed friends around him that the offer was fraudulent, he said.
The progression of this scam email came during National Cyber Security Awareness Month, observed in October. There were many events on campus to publicize this month, such as a password strength test, held in Tyler Haynes Commons. EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit that works with using technology in higher education settings, ranked Information Security Strategy as number one on its 2018 “Top 10 IT Issues” for the third year in a row.
Reynolds and Thomas could have lost a lot by becoming involved in the Acosta scam. Career Services offered some advice for vetting emails such as the one students received.
“Search the contact on LinkedIn and compare the email address they leave with the one on the company’s website,” Carrie Hawes, associate director for employer relations, said. “A common fraudulent trick is to mask emails so they are very similar, but off by one letter.”
Career Services sends out weekly newsletters with job listings that can be found on SpiderConnect. Hawes said all postings were checked with a 14-point employer posting guideline that employers are to read and adhere to before Career Services staff allow posting in the system.
“Any individual job opportunities would come from someone you might have worked with within the office, but they would have a recognizable email address,” Hawes said.
Shana Bumpas, director of information security, explained why students received the message instead of it being classified immediately as spam. Unless messages contain malicious content or exhibit poor behavior, it can be hard for the filter to block them as spam. Bumpas said the best way to prevent these messages being repeated is by reporting them.
Contact contributor Louise Howorth at firstname.lastname@example.org.