Scammer sought to defraud potential math tutors
“The department received a report on Feb. 6 about an incident involving an individual who sent an e-mail on Feb. 2 … seeking a math tutor for the individual’s daughter,” University spokeswoman Emily Aronson said in an e-mail.
An individual calling herself Mary Davids sent a one-line e-mail to Matthew Ferszt, the undergraduate administrator of the math department, at 2:53 a.m. on Feb. 2 inquiring about tutoring services.
“Hello this is mary and can you come and teach my daughter in maths lesson and how much do you accept per hour,” the individual wrote.
At 9:17 a.m., Ferszt forwarded the e-mail to math concentrators, according to records obtained by The Daily Princetonian.
“If you have the time and willingness, please contact Ms. Davids directly,” he said in his e-mail to the students.
Two students responded to the individual, Aronson said, and on Feb. 5 each received a fraudulent check with instructions to return some of the money to the individual via a wire service.
“Turns out this person is running a fraud,” one of the tutors, whose name was not disclosed, said in an e-mail to Ferszt. “She gave me a check for $2,900 and told me to take my salary and give the rest to someone’s nanny through Western Union.”
In the e-mail to Ferszt, the student speculated on how the individual was planning to commit the fraud.
“I would cash the check in the bank for $2,900, which would take 3 or more days before it would be returned as a bounced check,” the student said. “Meanwhile, as per instruction, I would have concurrently went to Western Union and wired the remaining $2,400 thinking that I have (or will soon have) that amount in my bank account.”
“The person would immediately have received my money transfer,” the student added. “Three days later I found out the check is bounced, and the person just stole $2,400 from me and I’m screwed.”
Neither of the students who responded to the initial e-mail cashed the fraudulent checks, Aronson said, adding that the students reported the incident to the math department and Public Safety. The math department notified other undergraduates.
Public Safety is currently working with the Office of Information Technology to identify the individual who sent the fraudulent e-mail and checks, Aronson said. There are currently no suspects. No other reports of similar criminal attempts have been reported.
Ferszt declined to comment.
Many students, some of them tutors, were already wary of the possibility of e-mail scams before this incident.
“I had prior information about schemes like that,” Chelsea Ayres ’12, a student tutor, said, adding that she would have been wary of transferring money had she been contacted about tutoring.
Kevin Huang ’10, who runs a tutoring business in Princeton, said this was the first time he had heard of fraud targeting student tutors.
“I’ve heard of similar scams, but not in the tutoring industry,” Huang said.
He added that he takes steps in his business to prevent being swindled, including dealing only in cash.
“I [work on] a pay-as-you-go basis,” Huang explained. “Most of my clients are by referral.”
Some students said the University should have exercised more caution in forwarding information about the false tutoring job to the students.
“The University should be checking out the people [they refer to students],” Ayres said, adding that having the sanction of the University makes it difficult to distinguish fraudulent requests from legitimate one. “If you get an e-mail from the University asking for a tutor, you’re less suspicious.”
But other students placed the burden of responsibility on tutors.
“I think tutors need to take more caution on their own end,” Huang said. “This whole scenario seems pretty suspect and shady.”