A former University mail clerk is the primary suspect in a $65,000 credit card scam that victimized at least 15 University professors and graduate students, say police in Stillwater, Minn.
The clerk, a 34-year-old Minneapolis man, reportedly stole the credit cards from mail sent to faculty members and graduate students in the School of Mathematics. Most of the victims are international students and professors, or faculty members temporarily living abroad, investigators say.
In some cases, the clerk allegedly applied for new credit cards with the professors’ and students’ financial information, said Jeff Stender, an investigator with the Stillwater Police Department.
Stender said he started investigating the scheme in July when a Stillwater antique dealer reported that a stolen credit card was used to purchase pottery in his store.
Police arrested the former mail clerk in January, but because of the complexity of the case, Stender said authorities declined to press charges at that time. The clerk resigned from his University position a few days later on Jan. 18, said Donald Kahn, director of graduate studies for the School of Mathematics.
Police first arrested the former mail clerk after Stender and the antique dealer identified the suspect on a store security videotape and matched him with a University employee photograph.
“This is a very unique case,” Stender said. “It’s taking months to get the necessary documentation.”
Stender, who is working with one other investigator from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, said he must analyze several hand signatures and expects the investigation will take another eight months.
Kahn said the clerk left a letter of resignation on his desk and allegedly attempted to delete files on his computer during his last day at the University.
Besides the pottery collection, the former mail clerk reportedly purchased oriental rugs, food and clothing with the stolen cards, totaling more than $65,000.
“The activity seems to have ceased,” Stender said. In the meantime, the investigator said he has tracked down faculty members in Europe and representatives from the credit card companies to piece together the case.
The math department first suspected a credit card scam when an Argentinian professor and a Russian student both had suspicious purchases from the Stillwater antique dealer show up on their billing statements.
When employees came forward with other similar credit card problems, Kahn said a memo was sent out by the department urging all employees to reroute mail with sensitive financial information outside of the University.
Most victims of the credit card swindle have not been held responsible for the expensive charges, Kahn said. A few professors, however, have paid attorney fees as a result of the incident.
“The problem really has come to an end,” Kahn said.
The former mail clerk’s criminal record in Hennepin County includes a theft charge in December 1991.