Following student reports of email scams, GVPD, IT Help Desk offer tips for protecting against fraud

By Anya Zentmeyer | 10/7/12 6:11pm

When Grand Valley State University freshman Jaclyn Frey received an email from a company that claimed to be hiring for “secret shoppers,” she didn’t think much of it.

“I never really questioned if this job offer was real or not because all of the emails seemed professional and the details about the complaints for each company seemed plausible,” Frey said.

She emailed the contact back with her name, her address and phone number and after a few weeks worth of correspondence, she was told she’d received the job and that she had two assignments: one at a Wal-Mart and one at a Western Union Bank.

“A few days later I received a letter in the mail the give step-by-step instructions for the jobs, and a check made out for $975,” she said. “I was to cash the check and send the money to a man in the Philippines.”

Though the check looked real, she thought it seemed “a little fishy” to send so much money to a man that seemed not only unrelated to the company, but was located completely out of the country.

She took it to the Grand Valley Police Department, where officers confirmed her suspicions.

“I am just glad that I was not tricked by this scam and was able to save myself from losing out on almost a $1,000,” Frey said.

Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of GVPD, said the police have received four reports from students since Sept. 25 concerning “Nigerian email/letter scams,” a blanket term for these types of email-based schemes.

Between the amount of time it takes to complete correspondence, the effort put into making a fraudulent check and the money spent on postage, Dehaan said it’s clear that “they’re putting quite an investiture into getting this to the students.”

“Be cautious of communication with people you have no made any positive I.D. for,” DeHaan said. “If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.”

At GVSU, John Klein of Information Technology said they get a number of students who call with concerns over emails that appear to be sent from an IT Help Desk asking students to click on a link to reset their login password.

However, Klein said that though they look very convincing, they are never from GVSU.

“We don’t do that,” he said. “We will never do that. We will never send an email message that says ‘we need to confirm your login and password information.’ We will never do that via email.”

Since people tend to use the same password for multiple accounts, Klein said passwords can act as a gateway for hackers or scammers to infiltrate a person’s privacy from all angles.

“So what they’re looking for is that one password that gets them in,” he said. “And then they’re going to other web sites. They’ll go to the Best Buy web site or they’ll go to the Amazon web site and they’ll try that same login and password and say ‘well, I’ve got Joe Smith’s email address at Grand Valley,’ because they fell for one of the scams, ‘I’m going to try Joe Smith’s email address on Amazon, now. Okay, now I’ve got the digits to Joe Smith’s credit card numbers.’

From there, scammers get access to PayPal accounts, bank information and then specific account information.

“It all daisy-chains from one account to another,” Klein said. “And people have used those methods to actually hack people’s accounts.”

Klein, like DeHaan, said the whole point of these emails is to gather information, and to establish a relationship with the victim. The probability that someone is going to pick you out of the millions and billions of people out there to help them smuggle money out of the country is slim. And once a student’s money is gone, it’s gone.

“The challenge for law enforcement is that it’s next to impossible to get your money back,” DeHaan said.

Klein said a lot of these scams are going mobile, too, and becoming increasingly harder to identify. However, there are steps students can take to minimize the risk like keeping a log of your resumes – who you sent them to, when you sent them, and what information you included, be wary of unsolicited communication, look for poor grammar, or inconsistencies in language, releasing information on a need-to-know basis and using multiple passwords for different accounts.

DeHaan said students who feel they may have been victimized or may be at risk of being victimized by one of these scams are welcome to visit with the police department and have a conversation. Currently, GVPD is forwarding any information they receive on these scams to the FBI, who are tasked with Internet fraud crimes.

Both Klein and DeHaan agreed, however, that there is one sure-fire indicator that students should keep in mind when treading the tumultuous waters of online communication.

“(DeHaan) probably told you the same thing,” Klein said. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is; in fact, it almost always is.”

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