Online scams are nothing new on the Binghamton University campus, but recently, scammers have been amping up their efforts. Faculty, staff and students have fallen victim to fraudulent promises of earning more wealth, losing upwards of $34,000 in some cases, according to Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD).
Of the many potential scams propositioned toward the campus community, there are three common ones that have proven to be the most successful, two of which are phishing scams. According to BU’s Information Technology Services (ITS) website, phishing is a technique in which users are directed by an official-looking email to provide personal information under false pretenses. The message may appear to come from a bank, police agency, friend, coworker or other legitimate entity, and requests a credit card number, social security number, ATM PIN number, password or other personal information.
The first phishing scam is known as the “personal assistant scam.” Typically, the scam involves the recipient receiving an email from someone claiming to be an actual person, such as a distinguished professor from another school. The scammers mass send an email out to BU students asking for a personal assistant in the area. Once they find a willing participant, they exchange numbers and ask the participant to perform menial tasks such as buying cleaning supplies from department stores. The scam generally ends after the scammer “pays” the recipient, claims to accidentally overpay them and requests a return of the money in the form of gift cards.
The second phishing scam most often afflicts faculty members because the scammer impersonates the head of their department and asks them to send money in gift cards as a favor with a promise of being reimbursed. Believing the scammer to be a colleague, many faculty members fall victim to the hoax, with some losing thousands in the process.
“[ITS] is doing their best to restrict these emails, but it’s impossible to block them all,” said Investigator Mark Silverio of the UPD. “Unfortunately, with both of these, because of the gift cards, it is really, really hard for us to follow the money and see where it went.”
The latest major scam afflicting BU students starts with them receiving threatening calls, telling students that if they refuse to comply they will face legal prosecution. The scam has caused students to lose hundreds to thousands of dollars, with one individual losing $34,000 with little to no chance of recuperating their funds. The scammers mostly target international students, according to Silverio.
“In any of the ones where the student is getting that threatening ‘You’re going to go to jail’ [message], have them come to us,” Silverio said. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, we can run it down and see if there truly is a problem, which 99.9 percent of the time there is not — it’s a scammer. Nobody is ever going to ask for gift cards to pay for legal fees ever, so that should be the first indicator. Anything involving gift cards is more than likely a scam.”
Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, echoed Silverio’s warning and said students need to stay up to date on the latest scams to stay safe.
“Take a step back and think [or] analyze anytime they think they’re being scammed,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “UPD is currently working on a website as well to help people on campus stay up to date on the most relevant scams impacting the University. The University has also been working proactively to inform students about the most current scams and frauds.”
Silverio said he encourages any students, faculty or staff members with questions or concerns regarding potential scams to call UPD at (607) 777-2393 or stop by the UPD station.