Fresno student & teacher thwart scam artists

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The calls seem to target first-generation college hopefuls who might be unfamiliar with the way financial aid works. In this case, they called the wrong student with the wrong teacher. (KFSN)

Scam artists are taking aim at high school seniors looking for money for college.

"I didn't think it was a scam at first because it sounded pretty normal to me," said Fatima Cardoso. "They said 'Oh, it's by the federal government.'"

The calls seem to target first-generation college hopefuls who might be unfamiliar with the way financial aid works. In this case, they called the wrong student with the wrong teacher.

Cardoso dreams of a future working with kids. The path to her future leads to college -- first Fresno City, then Fresno State, hopefully. But getting there will cost money her farm working family just can't afford.

"It's been stressful," she said. "You have to keep applying to scholarship after scholarship to get the help I need."

The Roosevelt High School senior has filled out at least ten applications, including the FAFSA -- the free application for federal student aid -- and so far hasn't gotten much response.

But this week, she got a phone call that made it all seem worth it.

"And he was like 'Yeah. You get $7000. You don't have to pay us back,'" she said. "I was like 'Oh' and I was getting excited because you don't think anything of it."

The caller had a lot of her personal information, said they were from the federal government and had a phone number with a Washington, D.C., area code. And all Cardoso needed to do to get this huge grant was to wire them $250.

She was so thrilled, she told her business teacher, Linda Jean Voth, who immediately smelled a scam. Together, they called back and when the pitch came through again, the teacher interrupted.

"I took the phone and said 'This is a scam. Please do not contact my student ever again,'" Voth said. "And the person on the other end said 'Shut up.'"

Voth and Cardoso reported the call to the principal who has now alerted other students and administrators across Fresno Unified. The Better Business Bureau is also well aware of the scam going around. The same phone numbers that called Cardoso have been reported by several other students.

"This is a very active issue right now because students are starting to hear back from colleges and looking for scholarship opportunities," said Blair Looney of the BBB.

Looney points out kids have several free sources of help as they look for money for college -- like school counselors and clever business teachers.

For Cardoso, it's back to the waiting game, hoping for help to make her dreams come true. But she definitely knows how to avoid at least one nightmare.

"If they're asking you for money to give you money..." an Action News reporter asked her. "It's an automatic scam," she said.
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