More than 300 students at Bucknell University got hit with letters from a collection agency last week charging that they had illegally downloaded material from Cayman Academic Resources and must pay $500 “to settle this matter.”
Several of the students who got the letter contacted university officials and said that they had never heard of the company and that they did not do the downloading. Now Jason Friedberg, chief of public safety for the university, suspects that the letters were part of a scam. He contacted the collection agency, Advanced Collection Services, which told him it is now having trouble contacting the client and plans to rescind the letters.
When The Chronicle called Advanced Collection Services today, a woman who answered refused to answer questions about the incident and hung up abruptly. Messages to other employees of the company were not returned.
The Chronicle could not find any record of Cayman Academic Resources.
Mr. Friedberg said he has notified the U.S. Postal Service of the incident as a possible case of mail fraud.
The letter from the collection agency is suspiciously vague, said Mr. Friedberg. It is just a few sentences long, and gives no specifics on what the students supposedly downloaded or when they allegedly did so. It asks for credit-card information so that the students can pay the $500 settlement fee.
“It’s a great scam,” he said. “The kids are doing illegal downloading, though probably not to the extent they were a few years ago. So when they get something like this where it’s only $500, they’re probably thinking, Oh, we’re glad it’s not more,” he said, referring to college students in general. “There’s a desire for them to wrap it up without their parents finding out.”
The university sent an e-mail message to all students, faculty members, and staff members last Tuesday alerting them to the letters and asking those who received them to contact the unversity police. More than 300 students came forward.
Mr. Friedberg said the company sent him a draft of a follow-up letter it plans to send to the students, which he shared with The Chronicle.
“When we asked for Cayman Academic Resources to provide proof of the downloads, we then discovered that Cayman is out of business and in receivership and that the proof is in a storage facility and not readily available,” says the draft letter. “We apologize to any student previously contacted by us. You will not hear from us again. We have not and will not report this matter to any Credit Bureau.”