By Ross Hager
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 30, 2005
A UA student lost nearly $6,000 in a fraudulent money-order scam that has become increasingly visible on the Internet and is targeting college students nationwide, police said.
Heiko Wawra, a mechanical engineering graduate student from Germany, said he posted a profile on www.roommates.com stating he had a room available for rent. Wawra said a prospective renter, who called herself Mary Moore, sent him an e-mail early this month expressing interest in leasing the space.
"It's the only contact we had," Wawra said.
Wawra said he then learned that Moore was a British citizen who was in France at the moment and was planning on flying to Tucson but was unable to because she had not received her final paycheck.
That's when Moore asked Wawra for a favor, he said.
Moore told Wawra she had three money orders but could not cash them in France, so she asked if she could mail them to him and in turn, he would send her the money, Wawra said.
"I had nothing to worry about. Money orders are the same as cash," Wawra said.
Wawra said he took the money orders, which totaled $6,000, to Wells Fargo and cashed them. He deducted the first month's rent from the total and sent the money to Moore through a service called MoneyGram, he said.
After the money was sent, Moore began to make excuses for why she had not arrived in Tucson, Wawra said.
His suspicions were confirmed when he received a notice Sept. 20 from Wells Fargo that said the money orders were found to be fraudulent and he would be responsible for replacing the money.
"I saw the debit on my online account for $6,000," Wawra said. "I was shocked."
Wawra said he contacted the University of Arizona Police Department but was told they could not investigate the fraudulent money orders because the incident occurred off campus and was referred to the Associated Students of the University of Arizona legal services.
Susan Ferrell, an ASUA legal services adviser, said this is the second scam in less than a year that targeted an international student.
The other case, which occurred at the beginning of the spring semester, also involved an apartment rental and fraudulent money order, Ferrell said.
International students may be targeted because in most cases they receive a large amount of money at the beginning of the semester, Ferrell said.
Although Moore was concluded to be an impostor, Ferrell said she has her own ideas about the culprit after reading the e-mail correspondence between Moore and Wawra.
"I could tell she was not a native English speaker," Ferrell said. "She did not put 'S's' on plural words. So she probably wasn't from Spain or Italy."
Ferrell suggested Wawra contact the Secret Service, which later informed him they could not investigate the incident.
Wawra said he plans to report the incident to the Tucson Police Department.
Police said students are at a higher risk of frauds like these because they are on an e-mail list that makes it easy to send out a single e-mail to thousands of students.
"These individuals are able to contact many more people through an e-mail system than on a one-by-one basis," said UAPD spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia.
The purpose of these "phishing e-mails" is to obtain personal or financial information, Mejia said, suggesting students be suspicious of giving information to someone they have had no personal contact with.
UAPD has sent numerous warnings through Campus Watch and the UA Listserv in hopes of thwarting another attempt by these individuals to scam students out of their money, Mejia said.