A College of the Desert student is speaking out after falling victim to a scam, in hopes other students don’t make the same mistake. Elidia Marquez says she lost nearly $3,000 after applying to a job that was sent out through the school’s online portal.
Marquez says she was looking for a part-time job to help with bills and tuition, as she’s been out of work due to the pandemic. “I have two jobs...but I’m unemployed. I have my car insurance, my car bills, I pay rent,” she said. “It’s been a struggle.”
She showed News Channel 3’s Madison Weil an email that got sent to her student email address through her College of the Desert online portal.
The email says it’s from “Student Employment Office” and notified students of a job opening for a “personal assistant position” offering $350 a week to help with tasks like “paying bills and sending emails.”
“Since it was coming through College of the Desert I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was a normal job,” said Marquez.
Marquez says she applied and got the job. The scammer went by the name “Shelby Olson” and began communicating with her through emails and texts.
She says Olson sent her a check, and asked her to deposit it into her own personal account. Olsen then asked Marquez to use that money to help her pay certain bills online. At that point Marquez realized something wasn’t right.
“I didn’t want anything to do with it once I had realized it wasn’t adding up,” said Marquez.
Marquez said she had already deposited the check and saw the money show up in her own account. She says she told Olson she just wanted to send the money back and to be left alone.
However, after sending the money back via Venmo, a few days later the bank notified her that the original check had bounced back. The bank deducted the amount she had sent back to Olson from Marquez’s own account.
“The check bounced. And unfortunately that was my money and now that money is negative in the bank account,” said Marquez.
Marquez had unknowingly sent nearly $3,000 of her own money to the scammer. She says scams like this take advantage of people who don’t realize that even if you deposit a check and see the funds in your account, that check can still bounce back days later and that money can be taken out.
“I started crying. It’s really hard because I’m kind of embarrassed...to me $2,850 is a lot. I work so hard...I have two jobs,” said Marquez.
When Marquez and News Channel 3's Madison Weil tried to call the cell number of the scammer, they heard this message: “The text mail subscriber you are trying to real is not available.”
Marquez says she filed a police report and notified the bank, but neither could help. She now has to repay the bank to cover her negative bank balance -- a challenge for the student who already works to help provide for her family. “We have seven individuals living in this household…I have my parents and my four other siblings,” said Marquez.
Marquez says she’s also trying to save up to go to school to become a teacher: “Those savings that I had...it was something I had put aside so I could continue my education.”
She says she’s sharing her story in hopes others don’t fall for similar scams. “I just hope that it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Marquez.
College of the Desert also responded to the incident with a statement:
College of the Desert is reminding students to protect their passwords and personal information to avoid scammers looking to take advantage of others during these uncertain times.
It is unconscionable that scammers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on others. We are continuing to warn our students and are actively working with local authorities and Ms. Marquez to ensure others do not fall victim to these types of scams.
Some of these scammers are very sophisticated in their efforts, making their emails appear as if they are coming from a college department or spoofing a college email address to recruit for fake jobs.
It is very important to learn and look out for red flags when conducting a job search. If a student suspects an email or position is fraudulent, they can contact the College’s Career & Workforce Solutions Center for support and advice.
We are very thankful for KESQ and others, who are helping us spread the word about how to stay safe and protect your personal information.
For a list of red flags and additional tips, please visit the Career and Workforce Development section of our website.
Marion J. Champion
Public Information Officer, Institutional Advancement