By Haley Keizur and Izzie Hallock
Note: No paid editors were involved in the reporting of this article.
On Jan. 31, a student was browsing through the then newest issue of the Foghorn when they came across an ad on page 11. It read, “Busy executive individual seeking part-time personal assistant.” The position supposedly paid $25.50 an hour and the employer sought a “personable” worker for 20 to 30 hours a week. The student, who requested anonymity for this article, applied for the job.
It turns out that the advertisement was placed by scammers impersonating an employee from Clune Construction’s Los Angeles office. As the situation unfolded, the student notified actual representatives from Clune Construction, along with the Foghorn, and eventually learned that they were not the sole victim of this scam. Prior to the discovery of the ad’s fraudulent nature, it was also published in the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate and another publication in Chicago, according to Foghorn Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Greschler.
The Foghorn was told that since parties in multiple states were involved in the scam, the FBI was involved in the case. The status of the FBI’s investigation is unknown.
The student decided to apply to the position because they had a friend who had previously been hired through an ad in the Foghorn. “It made sense to me at the time,” the student said.
USF Department of Public Safety, as part of their own separate investigation, discovered that the name on the credit card used to pay for the ad was not the same as the name of the person supposedly looking for an assistant. Darrin Craig, the name used in the ad, is an actual employee of Clune Construction. It is not known how or why Craig was targeted.
People claiming to be representatives of Clune Construction offered the job to the student. The perpetrators alleged that Craig was out of town, but sent a pre-payment for work they wished to be completed.
However, when the student attempted to deposit the pre-payment check into a brand new bank account, the check bounced. In response, the student’s bank froze the account.
The student said that they do partly blame themselves for the situation, but said they now have “negative feelings towards looking at another newspaper advertisement for a job posting.”
“I did my best to stop bad things from happening,” the student said. “I just did the best damage control I could.”
When the ad was purchased, the Foghorn received an email from an individual who identified themselves as Fereidoon Hatami. They claimed to be working with Clune Construction. Hatami paid $972 upfront on Jan. 21 for a half-page black and white ad to be run over four issues.
The student filed a report with Public Safety and notified Greschler hours before the Feb. 7 issue of the paper, which also contained the fraudulent ad, was to be distributed around campus.
“[The Foghorn staff] all personally thought the ad was odd,” Greschler said. “But we’ve also had advertisements in the past that [seemed] odd and they don’t have any illegal activity associated with them, so we didn’t think much of it.”
The Foghorn will be working with the Office of Student Life to figure out where the unused ad money will go, since the Foghorn did not run the rest of the ads.
Upon hearing about the situation on the morning of Feb. 6, the Foghorn’s first plan of action was to place stickers over the fraudulent ad in the Feb. 7 issue, which had just arrived from the Oakland-based printer.
Following a series of consultations between the Office of Student Life and Public Safety, a decision was made to take all remaining copies of the Jan. 31 issue out of circulation and to not release the freshly-printed Feb. 7 issue.
The Foghorn was later able to remove the ad and reprint the Feb. 7 issue, which was distributed one day late on Feb. 8.
When asked what he will do to prevent a situation like this from happening again, Lt. Kevin Dillon from Public Safety said that preventing this kind of issue does not fall on his office. He said that improvement needs to be seen within the Foghorn’s ad vetting process.
“It is embarrassing to put a scam ad in their newspaper,” Dillon said. “[The Foghorn and Student Leadership Engagement] will be doing things to vet ads better.”
Greschler said that the Foghorn did not vet the ad because he did not expect a student publication to be targeted for fraudulent activity.
“Going forward, we are working with SLE to find a way to vet these ads so this doesn’t happen again,” Greschler said. “But, to put in it perspective, it happened to the San Francisco Chronicle — so it’s not like it’s not happening to professional newspapers, either. We have to find a way to make sure what’s going in [the newspaper] is legit. We don’t want to screw over USF students.”