Several departmental assistants in the biology department at California Lutheran University have been affected by an email scam requesting tutoring services.
DAs got an email from a man claiming to be in Canada and in need of a biology tutor for his daughter while she visited the United States. He had access to their emails listed publicly on Cal Lutheran’s website.
Microbiology Departmental Assistant Lia Ceja was a victim of this scam that occurred last week. At the beginning of the school year she got an email from a man who said his name was Boris Bruno.
“He said, ‘I’ll pay you $30 an hour,’ and I was like OK, yeah, we can work something out,” Ceja said.
Bruno asked for Ceja’s address to send a check and her phone number for scheduling. He also said there would be extra money in the check that he wanted Ceja to give to the nanny, who would be dropping off his daughter for tutoring sessions.
Ceja said she soon got a text from Bruno asking if she got the check.
“I told him I got the check but I wouldn’t be able to deposit it until Tuesday. This was Saturday,” Ceja said.
On the night of Sunday, Sept. 17, when Ceja opened the check she was shocked to see it was for $3,000. Her payment was only meant to be $400. Ceja got another text asking if she got the check.
“The whole time on Tuesday he kept texting me ‘Have you deposited it yet?’ or ‘Hello?’ It was every 2 hours. Right there I was like, this isn’t right,” Ceja said.
Before she gave the check to the teller at the bank, Ceja explained the situation and asked her to check it. The teller noticed the check was printed upside down and that it was from South Carolina, but the address the man gave Ceja was from a university in New Mexico.
Ceja said the bank teller called it the “Bermuda triangle of bad checks” and told her it was a generic scam.
“You’ll deposit this money, by chance maybe it went through, and it’ll probably take a week instead of two to three days. In that time, he’ll ask you to take out money and give it to someone. You think you have that money in there and it’ll clear, you think you’ll be fine, but it’s actually not and it’s your money that he’s taking,” Ceja said the teller told her.
Ceja emailed her supervisor, Professor Barbara McNulty, that night about the scam. McNulty requested that the DA’s emails be taken off the Cal Lutheran website and sent an email informing students about the scam.
Ceja filed a police report on Sept. 20 and blocked Bruno’s number.
Departmental Assistants Amanda Miller and Michael Sunnaa were also contacted Aug. 27.
“At first I perceived the email as a normal tutoring request and I almost responded. But as I reviewed the email several times, it started to look odd,” Miller said.
Miller decided not to respond after noticing the email wasn’t from a Cal Lutheran email and that the message didn’t include specific details. She was also skeptical about how Bruno got her email in the first place.
“Scandals like this could happen to anyone, so that’s the part that scares me the most,” Miller said.
Sunnaa did respond to the initial email, but eventually asked for cash, and the conversation ended.
“You’ve always got to be on your toes. I won’t fall for that, especially more now because it wasn’t, ‘Oh this might be a scam’ – it was a confirmed, 100 percent scam,” Sunnaa said.