Tell us about yourself

My name is Maria Kanwal, I am a Fulbright Phd scholar from Pakistan with a Master’s in Energy Systems Engineering from National University of Science and Technologies.

I received a Fulbright scholarship for my PhD and moved to Pullman (Washington) to study Materials Science and Engineering at Washington State University in January 2021. After spending a semester there I realized that I wanted to switch programs and requested Fulbright to transfer me to UC Davis so I could pursue a PhD in Energy Systems. I moved to Davis on 1 September 2021. 

How were you scammed?

I had just moved to Davis, and having made a choice on my own there had limited financial help from my sponsors to make the move. I was in need of money to pay security and rent etc. and requested help from my brother who lives in Pakistan and works as a freelance software engineer.

My brother performed freelance work for a client, who turned out to be the scammer. My brother was due to receive US$1000 for the work he did for the client but since the client was based in the US my brother requested that the payment of US$1000 be sent directly to me instead so that I could use it.

The scammer sent a check to me fo US$3000, which me and my brother thought was fishy but they assured us that this was a mistake made by their accountant and would be rectified. They asked us to deposit the check and send the additional amount back once the bank cleared the payment. The check was deposited and appeared to have cleared in the account, so I thought that it must not be fake and any doubts in my mind about the legitimacy of this transaction were gone.

The scammer then contacted me the next day and requested that, since this was a mistake and I had more money in my account than I was owed by them, I return the entire amount via Zelle and that they would send a new check worth the amount owed. So, being as naive as I was, I did just that, assuming moral responsibility for having someone else’s money in my account.

A couple of days later I saw that the account was now in negative balance because the check had bounced. The bank told me there was nothing they could do since I willingly made the payment. The police did not even let us walk into the station to tell them about what happened and asked us to file online complaints, which after almost a month, have still not been assigned to anyone.

The scammer remained active for weeks after that, responding to texts and denying the act, which infuriated me at my helplessness. Despite reporting it to the FTC, FBI cyber crime online complaint system and the county’s attorney, there was nobody who would listen and try to do something about it. It was my mistake and only I had to take the blow. 

How has the scam affected you?

I was $3000 in debt, and borrowed money from my roommate and brother to bring my account out of negative balance. It has been difficult to get by. The gofundme campaign helped me recover some of the amount back, but it is still a huge dent in my pocket as an international student who is not allowed to work.

Apart from the financial toll, the emotional and mental repercussions were also great. I was accused of trying to make money when I shared my story to some people. The fact that in a foreign place there was nobody to hear my grievance made me realize how helpless and alone I am here. My friends have been helpful, but I do owe them money back. 

How did getting scammed make you feel?

Naive, stupid, gullible and most of all, so ill-prepared for this place. The helplessness I felt, when telling everyone that I tried to get some advice or help on how to go about the matter, and the embarrassment of having to let go of my self respect and ask people for financial help was terrible. My parents are not aware of the matter. 

Did you report the scam to UC Davis?

My friend contacted the student union for me. We did not know who else to turn to. They were kind in their words and advised us to get in touch with the legal consultant who works with UC Davis students. I was only able to get in touch with her over the phone and though she listened keenly to my problem, she told me very clearly that there is no hope of recovering the money or finding the culprit. 

Did you know about scams before arriving in the US?

The only scam I was aware of was the housing scam that many international students fall prey to when moving. I took many days of the orientation activity and there was nothing mentioned of such scams.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for other international students?

I would love to be able to help other vulnerable people stay away from such scams. Recently I learned, another Fulbright scholar who just moved a month or two ago from Pakistan was scammed for $7000 via a scam phone call that scared her into getting her personal information.

It is easy for people to pass judgments, but some of the students that come here leave home for the first time in their lives. I am a 27 year old, have worked in industry and stayed independently away from home for quite some time now, and still did not have the kind of judgement needed to avoid such tactics. I hope that something is done about the perpetrators who deprive people of their hard earned money like this.

Help Maria

You can help Maria get back on her feet by making a small donation through her Gofundme campaign:

Don’t get scammed!

As an international student, the best way to protect yourself from scams is to ensure you understand the risks and warning signs.

Stay safe – by taking the free online course below:

Scams Targeting International Students

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