Online scammers target campus

It seems everyone and his uncle has received an email about a Nigerian prince hard up for cash.

For UW-Eau Claire junior Glen Olson, it wasn’t an uncle, it was his friend’s mom.

“She wanted to send money to the Nigerian prince, so she went to the grocery store to wire it to Western Union,” Olson said. “But the people at the grocery store told her it was a scam.”

But scammers don’t just target unsuspecting moms, and phishing doesn’t end at email. Last week, an Eau Claire student lost hundreds of dollars in a telephone phishing scheme.

The student was contacted over the phone by “The Federal Reserve Bank,” who asked the student to wire money to receive a grant. The student sent the cash but no grant arrived.

The student’s mom contacted the Eau Claire Dean of Students, Joseph Abhold, who sent a campus email urging students to be aware of phishing attacks.

“Its a worthwhile story to tell,” Abhold said. “It’s not like there’s a huge epidemic, but we wanted to make sure one student losing money to a scam artist is one student too many.”

Craig Mey, the director of Learning and Technology Services, said although phishing attacks are nothing new, scams are getting more complex and harder to stop.

Mey said the student was duped by a relatively new strain of scams called “spearphishing,” where victims are targeted through phones and email.

“We have filters on email that eliminate spam, probably 15 percent are legitimate emails, and 85 percent are considered spam,” Mey said. “It’s dynamic, you have to change the filters all the time. It just keeps going back and forth. It’s not 100 percent effective.”

Eau Claire has email administrator s who adjust filters to keep out scams, but because phishing is getting more common, email filters can’t keep up with new strains of scams.

There are simple ways to avoid getting scammed, Mey said.

Watch out for misspellings, or any other glitches in official-looking sites. Be suspicious of urgency also. If a website wants you to plug in information as soon as possible, it might be a scam.

Never click hyperlinks in emails, Mey said. Clicking email links can re-direct to dangerous sites. Instead, copy and paste the link into the web browser.

Phishing is about trolling for personal information. A fake website may ask for a password that it can record and use to access other personal information.

Demetrius Evans, a senior at Eau Claire said she got an email just before school started this fall saying she’d made an honor roll. The site wasn’t school-sponsored, and it wasn’t a national or state organization she was familiar with.

“They were asking for $80 to get on the list,” Evans said. “I knew to immediately delete it.”

Mey said he found a phishing attack from “HP mail provider” saying he’d gone over his allotted email data. The site asked for a username and password to extend his data limit.

Abhold said phishing will continue to be a problem for anyone with an email account. The biggest thing the university can do to stop phishing is educate students on how to navigate predator messages.

“These are all realities students will have to face in the real world,” Abhold said. “Prevention is the key. It’s the wild west out there. Digital communication is here to stay. The best thing we can all do is become educated consumers.”