EAST LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — In the wake of tragedy, support has poured into the Michigan State University community.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the university says $346,000 has been donated to the newly created Spartan Strong fund, and thousands more will be donated through the sale of official Spartan Strong T-shirts.
Alumni have also been giving their time. On "Spartan Sunday," parents and alumni flocked to campus, giving out snacks and hugs to students returning to campus this week. Steve Culp of Troy was one of many alumni on campus.
“Went up to East Lansing for Spartan Sunday to volunteer and help out, and as happens with most things, pictures were taken,” Culp explained.
A picture of him and a friend volunteering was posted to the Detroit Spartan Alumni page, but it soon spread in ways he never thought.
“All of a sudden, I get direct messages or people tag me saying, 'Hey, do you know this is going on with your picture?' And it’s a copy of the picture, but it has a different image on it," he said.
Just six hours later, his picture appeared on a random Facebook page cropped with a different logo on his sweatshirt. The post also included a link to purchase the sweatshirt, which by the next day had over 600 likes.
"It's kind of hurtful, honestly," Culp said of his picture being used to deceive Spartans.
He added that it's not a complete surprise that this happened.
“But it was still shocking once you do see what's going on," Culp said. "They say they’re selling merchandise — I hope no one is ordering them.”
The website has numerous other Spartan Strong shirts for sale, which are supposed to be benefiting the Spartan Strong fund, but the site has no affiliation to the university.
"We have seen an uptick in scams as well as individuals selling unlicensed apparel," MSU deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said. “The university cannot independently verify that those proceeds from the sales of those unlicensed products will be donated to the Spartan Strong fund."
The Better Business Bureau says these scams often happen in the wake of tragedies across the country.
“Anytime there's a tragedy such as what’s happened at MSU, there are scammers out there that try to play on your heartstrings and play on your emotions,” said Laura Blankenship, chief of staff for the BBB in Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. “It's very sad and unfortunately, it's something we see happening more and more.”
Blankenship says to always look out for red flags and only rely on licensed, official websites. If a website doesn't have a mailing address, company name or was newly created, it is likely a scam. Getting your money back after a scam purchase can also be challenging, and scammers are often never caught.
“Sadly, it’s easy for them to pop up quickly and then disappear, especially if they’re in another country, which more often than not they are,” Blankenship said. “In true scams, which is what we’re seeing pop up currently, the person never receives the product and none of the actual funds go to who it says that it’s benefiting."
In fact, the Facebook page posting the links and the doctored photo was newly created, and the profile picture is of an MSU freshman who also survived the Oxford High School shooting. The photo was provided us by her family last week, but now, scammers have taken the photo and are using it without her permission.
“On top of everything else that has happened, for this to happen, it’s like the straw breaks the camels back,” Culp said.
The university says the only vendors licensed to sell Spartan Strong merchandise are:
- Nudge Printing
- Underground Printing
- Blue 84
- CDI Corp.
- A. Dean Watkins
- Sewing Concepts
- Gametime Sidekicks
Other retailers can contact the university to become licensed, and the school says all royalties are also being donated to the fund.
Consumers who believe they have seen products or services that do not appear to be licensed by MSU can contact University Licensing Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-355-3434.
You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or local police if you fall victim to a scam.
This article was written by WXYZ.