Students stung by e-mail fraud

Several Queen’s students victims of attempted rent scams

Emily Toffanello, along with her housemates Melissa Fedrigo and Kailea Macgillivray, were the victims of a fraud attempt when they advertised for a sublet for international students.
Emily Toffanello, along with her housemates Melissa Fedrigo and Kailea Macgillivray, were the victims of a fraud attempt when they advertised for a sublet for international students.

In her search for a subletter this semester, Emily Toffanello, ArtSci ’08, and her housemates posted a
listing on the international Student Centre’s house listing site. “We posted our house on the international student website and I’d say within three weeks, we got a reply from a girl who called herself Lyte,” Toffanello said. “We weren’t suspicious at that point. We were really interested in getting somebody who [was] interested in the room.”

Toffanello is one of several students on campus who have been targeted by someone using the name Lyte Stacey and asking students to return money after sending them fake money orders or cheques for rent.

Melissa Fedrigo, ArtSci ’08 and one of Toffanello’s housemates, said this is a security concern for the
house. “They know where we live, they have pictures of our house— we sent pictures of what the rooms look like.”

She also said that when they thought they had a tenant, they turned away two potential boarders. “All of us are feeling this financially; we have an empty room and it’s a whole house that we have, so not having someone here makes a difference.” Toffanello said her house begane-mailing the person at the end of November.

“We kept e-mailing and then Christmas came and went and then she didn’t come. And she kept avoiding the question of when she was coming, where she was coming, how she was coming,” Toffanello said.

Toffanello said the four months rent would have been $1,200. “She said she sent the money and she kept on asking me if we got it, if we got it, if we got it. [She] kept asking us,” Toffanello said.

“So the money got to our landlord in two separate money orders for American dollars, for $910 each.
“That was weird, the American dollars was weird, and the bank didn’t recognize them so they put a 15-day hold on them.” in January, Lyte’s story began to change. “She e-mails me saying, ‘Oh shit my dad’s accountant sent my plane ticket money with the money for the rent. Can we have that back?’”

Toffanello said she and her housemates decided this wasn’t a good idea.

“I was just a little worried legally,” she said. She got in touch with Joan Jones, the university’s town-gown liaison, who said it was OK not subletting to the person.

“I write to Lyte a polite e-mail saying if your money comes through we’ll send it back, but we just don’t want to have you here anymore,” Toffanello said. “I think everybody got fishy around the same time.”

She said shortly afterwards she received an e-mail from Sandra Jeffers, an international housing
program co-ordinator for the international Student Centre. The e-mail warned, “Some individuals, claiming to be coming to Queen’s and searching for accommodation prior to their arrival in Canada, are not who they appear to be.”

The e-mail further recommended students looking for more information regarding the transference of money should see the Kingston Police website on scams.

The e-mail’s contents have since been posted on the international Centre’s website. After reading the e-mail, Toffanello called Phonebusters, an RCMP reporting line for people who have been the target of fraud. Toffanello said the first thing the police asked was if the e-mails claimed to be from the UK and if she was supposed to send the money through Western Union. They told her this is called the Nigerian scam. “The RCMP guy told me to write and say your cheque bounced, we don’t want to ever hear from you again.” Toffanello did and hasn’t heard from them since.Through the e-mail sent out by the international Centre, Toffanello began to correspond with other students who had been sent the same story. “everybody who this happened to wrote back; there were just masses and masses of e-mails,” she said, adding that there were about 10 students involved.

* * *

The international Student Centre’s Sandra Jeffers said she first heard about the scam when a student asked her about the situation. “When he came in and spoke with us, we became aware that something didn’t sound right,” she said. “That’s when we did our research, to see, has something like this happened before?” Jeffers said. “We went to the police site and we spoke with Phonebusters and found out that, yes, there is a legitimate concern around this type of situation.

“We then sent out a notice to everybody to make them aware of it immediately.”

Jeffers said she has been in touch with several students who’ve also been contacted by someone named Lyte. “I’ve directly talked to about three [students] and then there has been a few people that have e-mailed to say they have a similar situation.”

Susan anderson, assistant director of the international Centre, said students should wait until they meet before they enter into any bargain where moneyis exchanged.

“It’s only when things start to get strange about money going back and forth, that’s the time to sort of question. The problem is not international students and visitors, the problem is people involved in illegal practices,” she said. “We discourage people from signing a contract until they can see what they’re getting. That’s reasonable.
“We never want money to be going back and forth ahead of time.”

Anderson also said they’ve considered the possibility of requiring people using the site to log in with a password but it wouldn’t be feasible for international visitors who don’t have a student number.

“There are a lot of people who come to Queen’s who won’t ever have a student number, because they’re visiting scholars or researchers, so they can’t log in.”

* * *

Elena Juatco, ArtSci ’07, has corresponded with Toffanello and sent out a warning to those listed in the initial warning e-mail after she was defrauded of money by the perpetrators. Juatco would not say how much she lost but she did say it was “A considerable amount.” She was contacted by Lyte Stacey who approached her with the same story. Unlike Toffanello however, Juatco was sent cheques.

Juatco said after sending back money she was then e-mailed again by Lyte’s father, who said Lyte had
been in a car accident and wouldn’t be able to make it to Kingston. “[He wanted to] refund the sublet fees minus the first month’s rent,” she said. “I would feel awful, absolutely awful if I couldn’t do this
small little thing for someone.”

And, because of banking procedure, Juatco already thought the cheque had gone through.

“I checked my online account, when I deposited it, it showed up on my account balance,” Juatco said.
“I assumed the cheque is in there, but apparently the cheque did not clear; this is after I sent the money back. i’m so safe with everything, but sometimes unexpected things happen,” she said. “I didn’t even stop to think twice.” Juatco said she reported the fraud to the police, who are investigating the case.

Meanwhile, Janina Fisher is a part-time student who was suspicious right when she was first contacted.
She asked that any money sent to her beforehand be sent by Western union because she didn’t want o
accept cheques. She then received two money orders for $910 and $950 (U.S.).

“I thought, ‘This is even more suspicious.’ I know there are scams out there where they send too much money and they ask to send money back,” she said, adding that she had very clearly asked for $475.
despite her trepidations, Fisher took them to the bank to ask for advice.

“I told my teller the whole story and I said I don’t think they were real, and she said, ‘Well, they look real.’ ” The two money orders had been issued from Wal-Mart and from Albertson’s, an American
business chain. Fisher phoned up Wal-Mart in the U.S. to see if she could verify the money order.
“[Wal-Mart] said the first one, which was $950, had been cashed in October and it was actually for
$50,” Fisher said.

“I called the police and they told me to phone Phonebusters.”

Fisher said she e-mailed the international Centre and other Queen’s students who had been targeted.
“In the meantime, I get an e-mail back saying, ‘The company accountant sent my airfare by accident,’ ” Fisher said. “I wrote back, sort of playing along.” at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning, Fisher said she received a phone call from someone who identified themselves as Lyte’s father.

“This guy says, ‘This is Scott, I’m calling from London.’ Fisher said she didn’t think the call came from London because the connection had a lot of interference.

Fisher received another call the following day. She said she hopes the police will be able to trace the calls. She has put in two calls to Phonebusters but hasn’t yet received a call in return. “I called twice now and nobody has called me back. I’m trying to help [the police] catch these people and nobody gives a damn.”

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