Lehigh Police has fielded three separate complaints of fraud between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, according to the LUPD crime log.
Chief Jason Schiffer said none of the three incidents are related in any way. All three are under investigation, Schiffer said.
Schiffer said the most alarming of the incidents took place on Nov. 27. The suspect in this case is reported to have “opened an account and purchased a new mobile phone fraudulently using the victim’s information,” the crime log said.
Schiffer said the Nov. 27 incident, located at 4 Duh Drive in Bethlehem, looks most like a form of identity theft. He said that since there’s a potential for future losses, “we want to put an end to that if at all possible.”
A separate incident on Nov. 25 occurred at the Ben Franklin Tech Ventures on Lehigh’s Mountaintop campus. Schiffer described this incident as more of a civil, contractual disagreement where the suspect agreed to provide a service and the service was not provided. The crime log reports that the victim’s loss is estimated at $200,000.
On Dec. 1, Schiffer said the victim, located at 435 Montclair Ave., reported a more common type of fraud. In this case, the victim received a response to a request for a sub-lease. Once a price was agreed upon, the suspect allegedly intentionally sent a void check for an amount that was more than the two agreed upon. The suspect then allegedly requested the difference between the amount sent and the amount agreed upon, so that the suspect makes money while the victim is unable to deposit the check.
The victim alerted LUPD before any money transfer was made, Schiffer said. He said the type of fraud that occurred in the Dec. 1 case occurs “several times” each semester.
“It’s become so much more common for people to try to defraud money, since there’s no physical risk,” he said. “It’s like the new way of theft.”
Schiffer added that investigations into such instances of fraud are challenging and “a lot end up being dead ends.” He said the time and effort it takes to track down a false identity is cumbersome, often relies upon cooperation from law enforcement agencies in other states and could require a court-ordered search warrant.
An outside police department choosing not to cooperate and chip in resources, or if the attempted crime is caught before a money transfer is made and the victim of the attempted crime therefore chooses not to press charges, makes investigations into these types of cases often inconclusive, Schiffer said.
Once money “changes hands,” however, the level of such an investigation increases. Schiffer said none of the three investigations are close to determining the suspects.
“A lot of these things just die on their own because there is no way to resolve it, because of technical difficulties of prosecuting something like (these cases of fraud),” Schiffer said.
He emphasized the importance for Lehigh students to be on the lookout for scams, especially ones involving financial aid and scholarships, roommate and rental housing and social media, and to report what happened to Lehigh police should an individual fall victim.
“Security measures like two-factor authentication, complex passwords, and complex answers to security questions can do a lot to prevent identity theft,” Schiffer said.