By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
Tight schedules and empty pockets — that’s what student life is all about. Faced with work overload and a pile of unpaid bills, it’s no wonder some students are notorious for scamming. While universities, airlines, cable companies and transit systems squeeze people for every penny, some students are squeezing right back.
Having slept through, rewrote and almost failed his third-year criminal justice and law exam at the University of Winnipeg last November, Aaron Goldberg — who asked we not use his real name — made a last-ditch effort to salvage his mark.
He told his professor he was unable to properly prepare for the exam because his grandfather had just passed away.
“I got an awful mark,” he recalls, “so I told my prof that I shouldn’t have written [the exam] at all because I was under so much emotional stress.”
Respecting Goldberg’s “loss,” his professor agreed to ignore the exam mark if he could provide an obituary from a newspaper for the school’s records.
That’s when Goldberg started to panic.
He desperately tried to place a death notice in the local paper, but The Winnipeg Sun called the synagogue where the funeral was to be held to verify details of the death and learned the synagogue had no records. The paper refused to print an obituary for someone who was still living.
Faced with the prospect of dropping the course, forfeiting student fees and losing three months of work, Goldberg summoned four of his most creative friends to save his ass. A few beers later the answer was obvious: Goldberg would have to make his own obituary.
They spent more than an hour trying to duplicate the font, size and style of an authentic newspaper obituary on Goldberg’s computer. Once perfected, they taped a piece of blank newsprint to a sheet of paper, lined them up in the printer and produced a convincing obituary for his still-living grandfather.
To his relief, Goldberg’s professor accepted the obituary and dropped the exam mark.
Goldberg passed the course.
Although he was not proud of himself for pulling the wool over his professor’s eyes, Goldberg felt guilty for exploiting his grandfather.
“I don’t care about the university,” he says. “If you don’t want to fail classes, there are certain extremes you have to go to.”
Ted Strauss, a cognitive science major at McGill University, managed to successfully defraud Canada’s largest airline by flying two people to separate destinations on one ticket.
In October, Strauss purchased a discounted Air Canada ticket for a flight from Montreal to North Carolina. The flight had a half-hour layover in Toronto.
A week before his scheduled flight, Strauss changed his plans to leave from Montreal and arrive in Toronto, the layover, a day early.
Air Canada wouldn’t change the dates on a discounted ticket, so Strauss decided to get a ride to Toronto and catch the connecting flight to North Carolina the next day.
But according to Air Canada’s strict rules, that wasn’t possible either. If Strauss didn’t board the plane in Montreal, he couldn’t take the flight to North Carolina.
Not willing to lose $400 airfare, Strauss came up with a risky plan.
He would find someone to take the flight from Montreal to Toronto, meet them at Pearson airport, switch places and take the flight to North Carolina.
So Strauss plastered a few “Free Flight to Toronto” posters around McGill’s campus and got an immediate response.
Strauss entrusted his ticket, luggage and credit card to a student he had never met and carried out his scheme.
The plan went off without a hitch.
Air Canada’s policy is to ensure that every person boarding the plane has a ticket made out in their own name.
An Air Canada ticket agent says if the imposter was discovered in Montreal or exiting the plane in Toronto, both Strauss and his accomplice would have faced serious consequences.
“The ticket would be voided and action against ticket fraud would have been set in motion,” the agent said.
Strauss is proud of his scheme and has no remorse for bending Air Canada’s rules.
“I paid for my flight,” he says. “Their regulations were the only reason I did this. I felt more uneasy about giving my credit card to a complete stranger.”
Joel Shapiro, 19, a computer science major at Queen’s University, piggybacks free cable from his school residence.
After paying tuition and residence fees, Shapiro — who used a false name to protect his free cable — felt he deserved more bang for his few entertainment bucks. He steals because he can, he says.
“[The cable company] hasn’t even noticed that we have it,” Shapiro says. “They let so many people get away with it, they’re obviously making enough money.”
Shapiro’s room is directly above a cable TV-equipped lounge, so getting free cable was simply a matter of hammering a hole in the floor and splitting the cable.
“We must have looked pretty shifty knocking out the hole, but we got away with it, and no one’s even noticed,” he says.
Rogers Cable obviously frowns upon splitting cable wires, but it isn’t a criminal offence.
“All we can do is disconnect the splitter or start billing you for an extra cable line,” says a Rogers representative.
Jacob Morris quickly discovered that $4 round-trip subway rides add up quickly for commuting students. So the 20-year-old arts student at the University of Toronto found a way around this inconvenience.
Morris — who also asked we not use his real name — makes fake TTC student cards that lower the cash fare to $1.40 from $2.
A TTC student card is also good for a strip of eight tickets for $9 instead of paying $17 for 10 tickets (an estimated yearly savings of $250 to $300). A warning though — this is quite illegal.
Morris uses a laminator, a computer, a scanner and a colour printer, but says that adhesive laminating strips will also work.
He borrowed a current high school student card to use as a template.
“It’s a must to get a current one because they change the colour and pattern every year, and [when drivers glance at it] that’s the most important part.”
It only takes a few minutes for Morris to scan the card, manipulate it to look like his own, fill in a name and laminate it.
“You just flash that when you put your student ticket in, and there’s no way they’ll ask to examinate it,” says Morris.
Examined from a distance, the card looks perfect. But TTC security says drivers are trained to look for subtle differences that cannot be duplicated by computer programs and home lamination.
In other words, if they ask you to hand over your card, run. TTC chief security officer Mike Walker says duplicating student cards is a criminal code offence.
“This is a zero-tolerance matter. We are aware that forgery and fraud is being committed and it is TTC policy to initiate legal action if we discover it.”
If caught by the TTC, Morris could face possible jail time, but it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“I just don’t have the money to pay the adult fare. I am a student. If anyone needs the discount, it’s the people who pay for their schooling.”