Students targeted in campus scam

First year students received a harsh welcome to campus as a scam artist shook up the first week of two intro-level classes.
  • Amy Durmaskin
September 13, 2009

Students and faculty in several sections of Chemical Principles I and Calculus I were shocked Wednesday to find themselves targets of an eBay scam.
A male stood outside introductory classes posing as a teaching assistant named Matt Worth. He handed out flyers to exiting students that stated an additional software program was required for the course and needed to be purchased before the next lecture.
A University-wide e-mail was sent out late Thursday by Jerry Rinehart , vice provost for student affairs, and Robert McMaster , vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.
The e-mail warned students about the scam in hopes of preventing similar scams they anticipate may strike campus in the near future.
“It’s frustrating that an individual would try to take advantage of students in that way,” Rinehart said. “We don’t want people to come in and prey upon students.”
The flyer also claimed the University Book Store was unable to stock the merchandise due to late notice. The more than 2,000 enrolled students were then instructed to order the $35 software on either Amazon or eBay .
A Yahoo ! e-mail account and a phone number with a 651 area code were listed for anyone with questions.
When students searched the software product on eBay, there was only one purchasing option. The site no longer sells the software due to scam complaints.
According to the scammer’s eBay site , 81 copies of the software were sold between Wednesday and Thursday.
First-year chemical engineering student Cory Thomas attempted to purchase the software for his chemistry class.
“He acted very much like a TA, and it all seemed very legit,” Thomas said.
Thomas called the listed number and spoke with the seller. “He had all the answers,” Thomas said. “He seemed to know a lot about the U, and I felt reassured from talking to him.”
Thomas bought the software but was able to cancel his PayPal payment and file a dispute once he discovered the software was a scam.
“It was very well planned,” Thomas said. “I’m really going to have to watch what I’m doing. [Campus] is not a safe environment anymore.”
Chemistry professor Ruth Robinson believed her 8 a.m. lecture was the first class targeted. The scam artist waited outside the Smith Hall classroom and passed out the flyers to students, most of whom were first-years.
“It’s unfortunate, especially given that a lot of these students are brand new to the University,” said Robinson, who estimates three or four students in her class fell victim to the scam.
Students in professor Victor Reiner’s 10:10 a.m. calculus course were also approached. By Thursday, two of Reiner’s students had attempted to purchase the software.
“I have never seen something this dishonest,” said Reiner, who has been at the University for 19 years.
A police report was filed with the University of Minnesota Police Department on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the police report, Officer Steven Kuhnau attempted to call the scammer, posing as a student in need of software.
The “enterprising person” told Kuhnau that he was “unavailable to meet.”
Sgt. Jo Anne Benson , who is in charge of investigations for the case, said UMPD does not have a good description of the male yet, but they do have a good lead and are “trying to take off with it.”

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