‘Tech-savvy’ generation falling victim to Internet and ATM fraud

Adam Milasincic

Many students fooled by work-at-home Internet schemes

Many college students are not alert to online work-at-home scams. On average in 2005, participants in these scams ended up owing $1,785. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

A man whose name may or may not be Graham Rodrigue wants to share a secret.

He used to be a workaday slob, a wage slave, a cog in the corporate wheel. Now, he stays home and earns $1,800 a day for typing.

Rodrigue pledges to help you do the same – after you send a $47 money order to his apartment in Quebec.

Similar solicitations cram some e-mail boxes and pepper online job boards. Most are fraudulent, and many target students, according to a January report by the National Consumers League.

Work-at-home offers represented just 1 percent of the total Internet grievances filed with the league in 2005, but they accounted for 44 percent of complaints from people younger than 30. On average, work-at-home schemes tapped victims for $1,785.

“Some of them are quite expensive,” said Susan Grant, director of the league’s National Fraud Information Center. “Competition for good-paying jobs is fierce, so when somebody advertises that you can make lots of money from the comforts of your home, it may be more appealing to people who haven’t found the jobs they’re looking for yet.”

Today’s students might belong to a tech-savvy generation, but they are also dangerously blind to consumer fraud techniques, said Barry Elliott, the creator and coordinator of PhoneBusters, an arm of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

He said a survey by his agency revealed that 69 percent of university students have shared debit card PIN numbers with acquaintances. This nonchalant attitude has helped fraud peddlers use the Internet to revive classic telemarketing scams, he said.

“The key thing with spam and e-mails is don’t open up unknown e-mails,” Elliott said.

On Feb. 7, an associate identified as Deborah Lewis sent an unsolicited e-mail to Kent State students that advertised a stay-at-home data entry job paying thousands a week.

“All you need is access to the Internet, have basic typing skills and follow our simple step-by-step system,” the e-mail said.

A follow-up e-mail led to a one-page Web site hosted by atspace.com, a free service a German company offers to anyone with computer access. In turn, that page links to www.data-entry-jobs.com, a site registered to Rodrigue.

Rodrigue listed a Quebec City phone number when registering his sites, according to the Register.com whois database. A call to the number yields the voice of an operator who said alternately in French and English that “this number is no longer in service.”

Most of Rodrigue’s Web sites are linked by claims that seem incredible, something Rodrigue acknowledges. In the FAQ section of one site, he answers the question “Is this program a scam?”

“We would not have been around for six solid years if our program was a scam,” Rodrigue said. “Everything listed in our site is 100 percent true, and the potential pay rates are real. As long as you follow our instructions and type ads daily, you’ll be paid for your work.”

Grant, of the National Consumers League, said consumers need to answer some questions for themselves. Most legitimate work-at-home opportunities come from local companies seeking local help. An advertisement that seeks home-based employees worldwide should raise red flags.

“One thing is a demand for money before you even get the details of what you’re going to do,” Grant said. “Another is any claim that you can make lots of money with just spending a few hours a day from the comfort of your home. If that were true, we’d all be doing that.”

If it’s not true, those who are promising sky-high payoffs for little or no work could be committing a crime.

“If there are deceptions that are being made with intent, then it’s fraud,” Elliott said. “It could be anything. There could be an organized-crime connection, or it could just be a guy operating without a lot of common sense leaving a huge trail.”

At Kent State, the Career Services Center bars employer recruiting by those who charge a buy-in fee to start a job. Assistant director Ami Haynes Hollis said she notifies faculty members when she is alerted to non-sanctioned recruiting. Employers who participate in campus events or post on the official jobs site, FlashForward, must pass a screening process.

The first point of contact for U.S. Internet fraud is the FBI-operated Web site, www.ic3.gov. Consumers can also visit www.fraud.org or www.phonebusters.com to file complaints.

Contact career services reporter Adam Milasincic at [email protected].