Charles Yarbrough, a general curriculum student at Tennessee Tech, got an email from a business owner about a prospective job at the beginning of the semester, and the student received a check last week. But if he cashed the check, there would have been serious consequences.
On Sept. 17, Yarbrough, 26, got a check in the mail for nearly $3,000. This would have come as a surprise for him, if not for the events that preceded the coming of the check.
When Yarbrough got his student email working during the first week of school, he said “generic newsletters” and “campus emails” flooded his account.
“Amongst all of them was an ad that seemed like an employment ad, which I’ve seen some around on the bulletin board in the University Center,” Yarbrough said. The name of the person promoting the ad was Thomas Cook.
“So it didn’t really catch me off guard. Specifically, the reason why it didn’t catch me off guard was because it was on the school email,” said Yarbrough. “So I read it, and it didn’t wind itself right off to being a scam. It was very thorough. This fellow didn’t disclose a name of a business.”
Yarbrough said Cook’s email offered a job as a supply currier for a business.
“So I responded just because I was looking for work. I didn’t even think I had a chance because I thought I had responded late,” Yarbrough said. He quickly got a reply.
Yarbrough said the second email wanted general information such as address, email, age, gender and phone number. He said there was also a brief questionnaire to be filled out. Yarbrough responded and received a final email.
“It was a little more detailed about what the job would entail, and how I would receive money from them,” Yarbrough said. The email said he was to extract his salary of $300 a week from a check and take the rest of the money “to a supplier to purchase office supplies.”
Yarbrough said in the second email, there was a name for a firm, Christodoulos G. Vassiliades & Co. LLC, a law firm in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Bank information was also requested.
“A red flag went up in my mind at that point,” Yarbrough said, deciding then to stop communicating with Cook.
“Even though he got no more than my phone number and address that’s all he needed,” he said.
The next day, Yarbrough got a UPS Express package from a Kevin Turner in Benicia, Calif.
“I wouldn’t have even opened it if it hadn’t have been for the fact that I got married just a few months ago and we’re still getting belated gifts,” said Yarbrough.
In the package was the check without a stub from Top Rock Reality based out of Mesa, Ariz., Yarbrough said.
“I contacted my father, who happens to be an attorney, and once we hashed it all-out, we notified campus police who may have dealt with this before,” he said.
He then took the check to campus police. Yarbrough said Lt. Mike Lambert, Tech officer, didn’t want to keep the check, but Yarbrough insisted.
If Yarbrough would have cashed this check, Cook could have drained the money from Yarbrough’s bank account.
“It becomes extortion, and you’re pretty much at their mercy,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough said most cases like this are impossible to catch the perpetrator, and largely the people who run these schemes are do so out of the United States.
Yarbrough admitted that he should have been “more discerning and a little less gullible” toward the whole experience.
Lambert said this is a very common occurrence and it often works on the elderly.
“There have been more incidents since the Yarbrough case,” Lambert said. “It seems to me these people are targeting the Tennessee Tech student body by using a blanket email.”
“I’m told that apparently it happens very often in the city of Cookeville,” Yarbrough said.
The Tech police department strongly suggests all students to approach emails like these with extreme caution, and if a student happens to answer any of these emails and receives a check, please contact them.
“One student came in yesterday and filed a report with Officer Chris Russell. He cashed the check he received and now he’s out $3,000,” Lambert said.
“Who knows how they get into campus email?” Yarbrough said. “Who knows if they have a source here? I guess you could speculate as far as you want.”