Local college students fall for Craigslist check scandal

By: Tatum Hunter ~Staff Writer~

Two Xavier students have fallen prey to a Craigslist scam, according to Jeffrey Coleman, Associate Vice President for Audit & Risk Management at Xavier.

One student contacted Campus Police after losing almost $2,000 to an online scam. The Division of Financial Administration has received reports that another student also lost money in a similar scam.

According to Coleman, scammers put ads on Craigslist, posing as out-of-town families in search of a house-sitter or babysitter for when they move into their new Cincinnati-area home.

When a student replies to the ad, the scammer sends him or her a cashier’s check, saying that the student needs to buy some supplies or furniture before the family arrives or that they want to pay him or her in advance.

After the student deposits the check, the scammer will request that the student wire most of the money back and keep only part. The student ends up wiring real money from his or her bank account back to the scammer, as the bank will hold the student responsible for cashing a fraudulent check.

Neither the police nor the banks can help victims of scams like this, since the scammers generally cannot be tracked and held accountable.

College students are especially vulnerable, as they are often looking for part-time work online.

Xavier is not the only local campus community that has been touched by scams like this; students at University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University have also been affected.

“They (scammers) have been targeting college students,” Coleman said. “They kind of have a captive audience. I always say, if it looks too good to be true, it is.”

After hearing about the incidents involving Xavier students, Coleman wrote a handout describing how best to avoid online job scams.

The handout urges students to be extremely cautious if potential employers seem reluctant to communicate over the phone or in person, ask you to forward or transfer money for them, write with many typos or grammatical errors or send a check that was larger than expected.

It also reminds students that their banks hold them responsible for each check they cash; if a check turns out to be fraudulent, they have to pay the bank the amount plus any penalties.

“Most people think that once you have a cashier’s check, you’re golden,” Coleman said.

This was the first time in Coleman’s career at Xavier that he has encountered a scam of this sort.

“It seems like it’s on the rise,” he said. “I went out and did some research online, and I got a lot of hits about universities dealing with students being scammed by stuff like this.”