Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer

Dressed in their commencement gear, graduates celebrate their commencement at Schoellkopf Field on May 29.

May 30, 2021

Graduating Seniors Face Cap and Gown Supplier Data Breach, Delivery Hurdles

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In the weeks and days before graduates lined Schoellkopf Field, a data breach and delivery location changes from the graduation wear supplier Herff Jones left some students scrambling to find proper caps, gowns and tassels — while others canceled their credit cards as they geared up for commencement.  

A mid-May Herff Jones cybersecurity incident led to the theft of some Cornell customers’ payment information in a breach that affected students who relied on the supplier across the country. Other Cornell students carved out time to pick up their cap and gown boxes at Robert Purcell Community Center, instead of getting the deliveries at their homes as they had originally anticipated.

While many said they were glad they eventually received their caps and gowns, some students are still working with their banks to recover money they lost from the data breach.

After buying her cap and gown from Herff Jones, United Airlines charged Niharika Shukla ’21 more than $1,000 for airplane tickets that she never bought.  

“I’m very, very annoyed,” Shukla said. “I know a few people who got big charges too, but theirs were declined by their bank. For some reason mine just went through, so I had to jump through hoops to have them cancel the charge.”

While Shukla has regained her money, Laila Abd Elmagid ’21 said her bank has not yet regained the $150 that an identity thief purchased from Fashion Nova, a fashion retailer, using her credit card. She received a text from her bank alerting her to a suspicious charge. 

Now, this identity theft forced her to cancel her credit card, and she received her cap and gown just one day before graduation.

Other graduates who ordered from Herff Jones, including Erin Scannell ’21, received tassels labeled with “Cornell College” instead of “Cornell University.”

“I really didn’t think this was a possibility,” Scannell said. “That Friday night, I had taken [the tassel] out for a second to take a better look at it, and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this is not for the right university.”

Scannell got Herff Jones to replace her tassel before graduation, but said she found the experience stressful and still wonders how the mix up happened. Herff Jones did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Even for those who received their graduation gear without tassel mix ups or notices of fraudulent activity, many students had to carve out time at the end of the semester to go to Robert Purcell Community Center to pick up their caps and gowns.

In an email to some students, Herff Jones wrote that the company sent some shipments to RPCC because the local FedEx office could not deliver an “overwhelming number” of cap and gowns quickly enough.

While Anekha Goyal ’21 eventually received her cap and gown, she did not pick it up herself, busy with final exams. Instead, her friend went to RPCC and called her so she could confirm to staff that she had agreed to this arrangement.

Catherine Gorey ’21 froze her credit card after hearing about the credit card fraud through TikTok, and she drove to RPCC to pick up the cap and gown boxes for her roommates. Many students, including Niket Vanker grad, said they remain irritated by the issues they faced in the process of ordering and receiving their caps and gowns.

“I didn’t think that this would be the biggest worry of mine for graduation, but it’s become one of the most stressful ones,” Abd Elmagid said.