Students lose thousands of dollars to internet scams

UW-Eau Claire Police wants to educate and encourage people to report online scams before it’s too late


Photo by Reonna Huettner

UW-Eau Claire police continue to see a high number of cases related to students becoming victims to scams online.

UW-Eau Claire police have noticed an increase in the number of online scams reported by students, faculty and staff.

According to the UW-Eau Claire police, online scams can come in numerous forms including emails, online messaging apps, phone calls, social media posts and texting.

Two particular scams have taken thousands of dollars away from students dating back to December 2020.

Professors asking for research via email

Many students received emails about a job position which involved research of some sort. In the email, the sender would claim to be a UW-Eau Claire professor who was not located in the state at the time but needed assistance, Chris Kirchman, lieutenant of UW-Eau Claire police department, said.

The task students were asked to complete involved them going to local stores and recording names and quantities of different COVID-19 products. Once completed, they should send the results that they found back to the sender and wait for further correspondence. 

After it was completed, the sender would reply and give large amounts of praise by using over-the-top sophisticated vocabulary and thank the student for the research they have done, Kirchman said.

Students would then be sent an electronic check with the instructions to cash it with mobile banking apps.

With the newly deposited money, students would be asked to go to different stores and purchase gift cards of various amounts to different stores, restaurants or plain visa cards. Once bought, students were told to scratch the backs and send pictures to the sender. 

Kirchman said the student would wait, not hear back from the sender again and soon find that the check they cashed was fraudulent, losing both their own money and the giftcards they purchased.

Make money fast

The second type of scam happened through social media and messenger apps. The sender would use the identity of someone else to convince students to send money via cash transfer apps, Kirchman said.

Apple Pay was one form of the cash transfers apps used. Students were contacted by an account that appeared to be a close friend. The “friend” had messaged the student and told them they knew ways to make money fast. 

All the student needed to do was send cash amounts using Apple Pay to a specific phone number provided by the “friend” Kirchman said. After sending the money, the “friend” told them they would make more money in return. 

Students then proceeded to send money to the number and did not get anything back in return, then reached out to the friend asking to meet up and talk about the money, Kirchman said. The person who stole the identity agreed on a time and place but never showed up. 

Students who felt something was wrong looked into the situation more and learned they had been scammed, eventually reporting it to the UW-Eau Claire police.

Other forms of money apps being used are Bitcoin and Zelle.  

How to protect against online scams 

Melissa Janssen, the program director of Community Relations from Royal Credit Union, said it is not uncommon for people to miss red flags when dealing with fraud.

“One common misconception that people have is that if the check is deposited and they can access the money,” Janssen said. “Then, the check must be real.” 

Janssen said by law, banks and credit unions must make funds available to people quickly even if it is a fake check. In most cases, if the funds from the cashed check get sent to someone through money transfer or gift cards, it is almost impossible to get the money back.

Before replying to the sender, Janssen said to check for the following warning signs :

  • Do you know the person who is sending the message? If yes, did you check the email to make sure it is correct?
  • Are they asking you to respond quickly or say it is an urgent task? Are they trying to evoke emotions?
  • What is the person asking you to do and are they promising a large payout, more than the initial offer?

In cases reported to the UW-Eau Claire police, students said they responded to the email because they saw it was However, once the email was sent to the police, they saw the email was [professor’s email]@[email protected].

Kirchman said if the offer is too good to be true, it probably is.

Students should check out the situation before making agreements, exchanging money or giving out personal information. 

“If you are the victim of fraud or a scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency,” Kirchman said. “While these types of cases can be difficult to solve, it allows for us to know the types of scams that are occurring so we can share that information with the public.” 

The Learning & Technology Service at UW-Eau Claire wants students to forward and report emails if they think it might be a scam, Kevin Keller, a LTS help desk employee, said.

LTS can then use the Microsoft quarantine filter to prevent those types of emails from reaching students.

For more information on spotting fake checks, look at the Federal Trade Commission: Consumers Information page here.

To report potential scam emails to LTS, forward the email to [email protected].  

The UW-Eau Claire police department can be reached by email, [email protected]. Also by phone, (715)-836-2222, at their main office. For more contact information visit their website

Huettner can be contacted at [email protected].