Students lose thousands in scams


The Information Security Office and the UTD police department are aiding students and alumni targeted by recent email and phone scams.

In the last year, 26 students reported falling victim to phone scams, losing a total of $40,000, with one student losing almost $20,000, according to the UTD PD.

The scammers often pose as agents for the Internal Revenue Service or an immigration authority.

Alumnus Sree Kosuru received a call last month that threatened deportation for not paying a four percent fee on money sent to him from India.

“They give you a lot of information saying ‘This is your case file number, this is my name’ and they will give you a badge number or police department name. He told me he was calling from police headquarters,” Kosuru said.

Despite how real it sounded to Kosuru, he said he immediately knew the call wasn’t legitimate. Government agencies will always reach out through official means of communication like a letter and will never request gift cards as a form of payment.

Lt. Ken MacKenzie advised students to take precautions if their confidential information is stolen.

“What you need to do is immediately call the credit bureau and put a fraud alert on your credit history,” he said. “That way if anyone tries to open a credit account … it’s not approved unless they call your cell and actually talk to you.”

To raise awareness about these scams, the UTD police department provides seminars teaching students about commonly used ploys. Meanwhile, the ISO is working to protect UTD accounts from malicious emails through security features and educating community members.

Recently, over 1,200 UTD email accounts received a phishing email designed to trick recipients into giving away information. The email claimed users needed to view their W-2 tax form and contained a link to a site that looked nearly identical to the Galaxy web portal.

“It’s seasonal. It’s related to the fact that we’re in tax season and people’s tax returns are going to be due in April,” said Nate Howe, chief information security officer. “We don’t see email scams that refer to W-2 form and taxes in November.”

In this particular incident, only 13 people had their information compromised. Awareness and Outreach Manager Stephanie Edwards said users reaching out to the ISO about the suspicious email helped them notify other recipients quickly.

Every week over seven million emails are sent from external addresses to UTD accounts. Out of those, 83 percent are flagged as spam and blocked by the filters. Despite these precautions, occasionally emails slip through.

“If we turn these filters up to be aggressive, we might catch a bit more of these but we would also start to block legitimate messages you were expecting to get,” Howe said.

In addition to information sessions to educate students about information security, the ISO also provides free resources to all UTD members like LastPass, a password manager, and Comet Space, a one terabyte cloud storage service.

If students, faculty or staff receive suspicious calls or emails, Crime Prevention Officer David Spigelmyer encouraged them to reach out to the police department.

“If you get an email or phone call don’t try to handle it on your own, let us know about it,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of us. … We’ll help you out.”


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