If one were to look at the SIUE police blotter from the past month, they would notice a trend: an increase in what police are calling “spoofing,” leading police to warn students.
Spoofing is communication, such as emails or phone calls, from an unknown source used to obtain the receiver’s personal information.
A recent surge in phone calls from a caller claiming to be campus police and asking for money resulted in the SIUE Police Department sending an email to the student body warning them about “spoofing.”
Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said spoofing can be done in a number of ways.
“Spoofing is any time somebody tries to commit a scam, either by sending somebody an email, or it can be a phone call on your cell phone,” Schmoll said. “I’ve seen some texts as well. Most of them are phone calls or emails where somebody is trying to extort, usually trick them into sending them money. Most of the time it’s giftcards.”
Jeff Smith, SIUE IT technology director, defined spoofing as social engineering, in the sense that someone is pretending to be someone they are not, with the intent of extorting money.
“Now when you talk about spoofing, spoofing is a grift. It’s just somebody pretending to be something they’re not to monetize whatever gain they’re after. And so, when we’re talking about spoofing in general, I mean that could be anything,” Smith said. “It could be me just pretending to be an officer or the FBI.”
Schmoll said one identifier that a call is a spoof is if it appears to come from a law enforcement agency.
“No law enforcement agency is going to contact you and threaten you that you’re going to be arrested if you don’t pay money. That is not going to happen. That’s not how it works,” Schmoll said.
Schmoll said students should not interact with the caller if they receive a suspicious phone call.
“Do not get into a conversation with them over the phone, just hang up on them … don’t give them any information, just hang up on them … Do not respond to whatsoever [to emails]. You can always come to us if you’re a student [and] report it to us,” Schmoll said.
Smith said that scams are usually attempted through information available to the general public.
“It usually starts with public-facing data, so they go and kind of find out about you. They might go through the directory on the website and they’ll grab addresses and phone numbers. And it’s all public facing. They usually haven’t hacked anything,” Smith said.
Smith also said that scammers typically use similar tactics to scare people over the phone.
“When you start to get suspect, when you start to back off what they’re trying to do, it’s the same M.O. every time. They get very intimidating, they get very vulgar. They try to scare you into complying,” Smith said.
According to Smith, asking for gift codes is a sign of a scam.
“The most telling is if they start asking for gift codes. It’s time to cut them off and report them to somebody. I can’t stress that enough, because that’s what we see, mostly,” Smith said.
Karl Griffiths, SIUE IT technical lead, said some people have claimed to be tech support.
“They’ll call you and say, ‘We’ve detected viruses coming from your system; we’re here to help you clean it up.’ They’ll often say they’re from Microsoft,” Griffiths said. “Then you end up giving them remote access to your computer and while they’re supposedly fixing your computer, what they’re really doing is loading viruses on your machine and sucking all the data they can get off of it.”
Griffiths said those who think they may know the sender of a suspicious message should take the extra precaution of checking with the person to see if they actually sent a message.
“I have seen Gmail accounts that were made up of the person’s name. But even then, still call the person, contact their SIUE email, something. Because that extra step, it could save you a lot of money and a lot of heartache,” Griffiths said.
Students are encouraged to contact authorities if they believe they have received a scam phone call or email, and can do so through the IT department.
“Any time you encounter it, I would say tell anyone, and don’t be afraid to call us here. Don’t be afraid to call [the police department]. And if it’s somebody that wants to meet you in person, do not be afraid to call the FBI,” Smith said. “But we are an avenue to talk to the FBI, especially on behalf of anyone with SIUE.”
To contact SIUE IT with concerns about the legitimacy of a message, call 650-5500 or forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals can also contact SIUE Police through their non-emergency number 650-3324.