FBI Scam Prompts Email to Students

By Daniel Hall – [email protected] – Staff writer | Jan. 21, 2015 |
On Jan. 14, UNC Asheville students received a PSA circulated by the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3), regarding a scam targeting university students.
Eric Boyce, assistant vice chancellor of public safety, said no UNCA students reported falling victim to the scam, but he felt the information was important enough to pass along.
It is called the “Work-at-Home” scam. First, the student is contacted with a job offer via email. The job requires the student to receive funds, then transfer a portion of those funds to a designated bank account, keeping the remainder as payment for service.
According to the announcement, students who become involved in the scam can face serious consequences. The bank may close the student’s account due to fraudulent activity, and there is the possibility of federal prosecution.
What the student might not realize is that the money they received and transferred was obtained illegally — a crime in which they are now complicit.
“Effectively they become the mule, if you will, for a money-laundering scheme,” said Jeff Brown, chief information officer.
Brown said the system used for student and faculty email, Google Apps for Education, has a robust filter that catches most phishing and spam emails before students see them.
However, the system is not impenetrable. Brown said that when a new scam surfaces, or if old ones find a new vector of attack, they can make it through the filters. He said Information Technology Services will generally send out an email notifying students of the threat.
Adam Bull, a civil and criminal defense attorney in Asheville, said the student’s role in the scheme is to stall investigative efforts, giving the real perpetrators the opportunity to evade detection and capture.
“It throws off the investigation. And then they have to go through this thing where, is the student actually involved? Knowingly involved? Unknowingly involved?” Bull said.
Bull said the perpetrators play a shell game with the stolen money, moving it between accounts while investigators try to track it down. Using students is a delaying tactic. They serve as human roadblocks investigators must navigate before picking up the trail again. Meanwhile, the perpetrators have continued moving money along that trail, making capture increasingly unlikely.
Shelley Lynch, public relations specialist at the FBI, said there was not a specific incident that prompted the announcement’s circulation, but rather a pattern made evident by data assessment at the IC3.
“The Internet Crimes Complaint Center regularly issues announcements when it receives complaints or intelligence about growing trends,” Lynch said.
According to its website, the IC3 is an organization formed through a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. It serves as a central referral mechanism for Internet-related crime, where victims of such crimes can easily and conveniently file complaints.
Lynch said complaints are received from across the nation. By gathering all data in one place, trends can be seen in what otherwise might be regarded as separate, isolated incidents. Such a trend is what prompted the PSA to be circulated via various online and social media venues. Boyce emailed the information to students.
He said he gets these warnings from time to time and it is important to be proactive in getting the information to students, before someone is victimized.
To avoid being scammed, the PSA suggests a few safety measures: never accept a job that requires wiring funds between different accounts, look for poor spelling and grammar, and practice common sense. If a job sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Students just need to be mindful of the areas that they are solicited,” Boyce said. “Make sure you do some diligence to check out the company if it’s a work-from-home scheme. I’m not saying that all work-from-home opportunities are scams, but you should do some diligence to figure out if it’s a legitimate company.”