An email alert sent out to staff of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District on Tuesday evening, May 12, warned that teachers were getting messages from an individual claiming to be Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati.
Scammers posing as Drati were reportedly asking teachers to purchase gift cards on his behalf.
“We have reports that someone is texting our staff purporting to be Ben Drati and asking for gift cards to be purchased and the codes sent back to this person,” district spokesperson Gail Pinsker wrote. “THIS IS A SCAM!”
Pinsker’s email also indicated parents and staff members should “vet” requests they receive.
“Some of our PTA groups, staff are collecting for needy families, so please continue to vet the requester, and support as you can and see fit. Or, refer to our resources page for support: www.smmusd.org/familyresources,” Pinsker wrote.
Later tweets from Malibu High School Principal Patrick Miller claimed any fundraising outside official channels should be considered suspect.
“Our Malibu families should always be suspicious of any ask if it is not from The Shark Fund or Malibu Lead! Our umbrella fundraising organization means you won’t have various students, parents, groups seeking donations directly. All our fundraising goes to The Shark Fund,” Miller tweeted.
However, clubs and organizations within the school have been known to fundraise including the club Operation Smile, written about in the May 7 edition of The Malibu Times, which was soliciting donations to provide meals for frontline medical workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
The scam alert marks the second tech issue faced by the school district since in-person classes ended.
In early May, a student attending a SMMUSD school, “accessed the system and was able to send messages to all students for 16 minutes, before it was discovered by our technology team,” Pinsker wrote in an email on May 2. “The system was then disabled so no additional messages could be sent.”
The district’s Gmail was temporarily disabled due to the disruption, but there was no interruption in distance learning.