By Maria Elliott
Suspicious emails have been popping up in Youngstown State University students’ inboxes this semester, according to Information Technology Services.
Christopher Wentz, the chief information security officer at YSU, said there are three different common types of email scams that target students.
Work-from-home offers, bitcoin ransom scams, where the scammer claims to have sensitive information and leverages it for money, and gift card redemption scams, all happen at YSU.
According to Wentz, gift card scams, where the scammer asks a person to buy gift cards and send the redemption codes, appear to be the most prevalent at the moment.
Information security screens all emails sent on the YSU email server, and only about 30% of sent emails are delivered, according to Wentz. The scams that successfully make it through the filtering process are intentionally vague to get people to respond without alerting ITS.
“The scammers typically start off with a message that is very, very vanilla,” Wentz said.
He said the scenarios usually bear certain similarities, such as asking a simple question like “Are you available?” or “Are you on campus?” Then, if the receiver responds, the scammer will create a sense of urgency by asking for help in some way.
“Good or bad, humans are preprogrammed to help. That’s just the way we’re wired,” Wentz said.
Wentz said students should be wary of unsolicited requests from parties whom they have not communicated with in the past.
“We will handle those emails all day long,” he said.
YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso said “spoofing,” which is when the sender uses an email address that appears to belong to someone the receiver knows, is a new scam tactic used in conjunction with the gift card emails.
“By no means should you be going out and buying multiple gift cards. That’s pretty much a dead giveaway,” Varso said.
He said prevention is the best defense because many of these scams originate overseas and it’s difficult to stop transactions once the information has been given away.
“If it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is a scam,” Varso said.
Varso also warned that students should be careful about what kind of identifying information they put online and on social media.
Unlike the newer gift card scams, Varso said fake employment offers have been an ongoing problem and they often show up around graduation time.
Justin Edwards, director of the Office of Career and Academic Advising, said Handshake is the official job and internship posting board at YSU.
“This site helps to promote a higher likelihood of a good employer interaction than open boards found at other online websites,” he said.
According to Edwards, all employers are vetted before they are allowed to post on Handshake in order to avoid fraudulent job offers.
He said students looking for legitimate job offers should create a free account at ysu.joinhandshake.com.
Students should also regularly check www.ysu.edu/it-security-services for tips and updates on information security.
Students who receive suspicious emails should forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org.