Baited with scams, phishers try to hook the UI community

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JULY 01, 2009 7:21 AM

Many UI students have left campus for the summer. But that hasn’t stopped scammers.

While scams at the university are more common during the fall and spring semesters, they are not unheard of during the summer months, said Robert Vinson, a senior security analyst with Information Technology Services.

And though ITS employees always respond to complaints they receive, they said, there is only so much they can do to address the overall issue of scamming.

“We can’t track every phishing attempt that comes through with a high degree of effectiveness,” Vinson said. “It’s hard to determine the point of origin.”

Statistics on complaints received by ITS were not immediately available.

UI and Iowa City police agree when it comes to Internet crime, it can be difficult to track down scammers because they can be in another state or country.

Earlier this year, an estimated 21,000 UI students received a fraudulent e-mail claiming they could earn $300 to $550 per week by filling out online surveys.

Last week, scammers once again targeted UI students.

On June 23, ITS received numerous reports of a fraudulent e-mail — seeming to come from a “uiowa.edu” account — that a scammer sent out to some UI students. The e-mails instructed them to click on a link to validate their account and increase their account quota, which had supposedly been exceeded.

Whenever ITS employees receive numerous reports of a scam, they go through a series of routine steps to address the issue, Vinson said, including posting a notice on the ITS site. If the scammer asked the victim to submit personal information — such as a Hawk ID and password —via e-mail, ITS employees set up blocks that prevent anyone in the UI community from sending e-mails to the scammer’s e-mail address.

But those can only do so much.

If the scammer asked the victim to submit personal information via a website — as with the June 23 scam — blocks are ineffective.

In the event that the scammer succeeds in obtaining personal information, ITS employees temporarily shut down the infiltrated account until the password has been reset.

But aside from taking these steps and — in the case of larger scams that target numerous universities — contacting UI police, Vinson said there isn’t much more ITS can do.

Bill Searls, an associate director of the UI police, said officers will work with state and federal agencies and occasionally send out mass e-mails to the UI community if a particular scam warrants it.

Some UI students are concerned about scams, especially those that use “uiowa.edu” accounts to obtain personal information.

“I think it’s a problem. The university is so large, it’s hard to determine what’s what,” UI graduate student Kelly Ruth Winter said, and incoming students may be more “at risk” than students who have been at the UI for a while because they aren’t familiar with the environment.

But Tim Staub — a UI junior who has received questionable e-mails in the past — is relatively unfazed by it all. He said he believes taking a closer look at e-mail senders’ names and links can go a long way.

“I haven’t really worried about [e-mail scams],” he said. “I hope I’d be able to decipher the real from the fake.”

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