You never think it’s going to happen to you. We always hear horror stories about people getting their identities stolen. But these tales are always framed as folklore; like a cautionary tale you hear but don’t truly believe will ever touch your life. That’s exactly what identity theft was to me; a spooky story like the boogieman meant to scare you into good behavior. I felt like I had a good enough head on my shoulders to ignore it. I never worried about identity theft as a true threat. Until it happened to me.
It was my sophomore year. Between moving into my first real apartment and adjusting to my new class load, things felt a bit chaotic. I didn’t even have a job yet! If I wanted to keep up with my bills, I needed to lock one down fast before my savings dried up.
When you get an email from your professor offering you a job, you respond.
When I received an email from my freshman year anthropology professor offering me a job, it seemed like fate. Here I was stressing over a job and one lands right in my lap. I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately for me, I learned the hard way that you should always look before you leap.
When I replied with enthusiastic interest, my professor emailed me further instructions. She told me that I’d need some supplies and software to get started. It seemed sort of strange to me that I’d need to purchase anything but I was put at ease when I read that I would be given the necessary funds. A check was attached to the email. It was $600; half meant for the required materials and half allocated to me as “pay”. It all seemed like a pretty sweet deal.
Cashing The Check
I cashed the check and shortly after my balance was updated. Then I wired the 300 dollars to the vendor my professor mentioned. All seemed to be moving smoothly and I couldn’t wait to get started with my brand new job. That excitement quickly wore off when I got a call from my bank. The check bounced. My “supplies” never arrived.
It turns out I was never actually emailing my professor.
It was her university-issued email address, but she wasn’t the one I was corresponding with. Her account was hacked by some scammer on the dark web.
It was devastating. My bank account took a huge hit. Not only did I never get that $300 back, but I also had to prove I wasn’t that one that forged that fraudulent check. The whole situation was an absolute nightmare. And the worst part? It was completely avoidable.
I was careless. I didn’t think once to talk to my professor in person about the “job”. I gave out my information. And I never even took the time to research the “company” I was giving my money to. But if one good thing comes out of this whole mess, I hope it’s that I can help someone else avoid it. With a discerning eye and carefully placed suspicion, you can protect your identity.
Tips For Protecting Your Identity:
- Be skeptical! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Little work for high pay is a huge red flag for identity theft.
- Never give out personal information such as your social security or bank number over email or phone.
- If you’re asked to transfer funds via Western Union, MoneyGram or any other similar service, they’re most likely a scammer. Never ever transfer funds to someone you don’t know.
- Do your homework! Be sure to thoroughly research the company. Check for a reputable website. Look to see if the job you were offered appeared on their site.
- Don’t agree to a background check unless you’ve met your potential employer in person.
- Always try to meet face to face with your potential employer in a safe, public environment. It’s a lot easier to read a person’s intentions when they’re right in front of you.
- Ask questions and lots of them!
- If you think you’re dealing with a potential scammer, report it right away to the police or campus security for identity theft protection.
- Don’t accept job offers emailed to you out of the blue. Just don’t do it.
You hear horror stories like this one and assume it would never happen at your campus but is it worth the risk? Better safe than sorry.
Featured Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/phone-mobile-telephone-smartphone-1052023/
Alexandra Smith is majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Creative Writing. In her free time, she enjoys running, hanging out with family friends, and roaming the world with her camera in hand.