Email scams clog inboxes

Taylor Harrison

WKU students have been receiving more scam emails in the last few months than the school’s Information Technology Department has seen in quite awhile.

Gordon Johnson, associate vice president of Information Technology, said common scams that try to get people to give up their money offer “work at home” jobs, where people can earn quick money.

“We actually have not had a lot of those over the last three to five years,” he said. “Just within the last three to six months, there’s been several of those that have come through here.” 

Ronnie Ward, the public information officer for the Bowling Green Police Department, said recently two WKU students filed police reports stating that they had money stolen from them through these scam emails. 

One of the students said they received an email through a WKU email account about online employment, according to the police report.

After researching the company mentioned in the email, they replied with information, including their name, address and phone number. Then, they received a confirmation text from the supposed company.

The student then received a check for $2,350 and was instructed to send a Moneygram of $2,000 to Bennie Smith in Florida, the police report stated. 

After following through with these instructions, the student’s bank later contacted them and said the check cashed was not valid. 

The police were able to locate a Bennie Smith in Florida. Copies of the emails were logged into evidence, according to the report. The case is still open.

Ward said while the police don’t get a lot of scam reports from WKU students, they get quite a few complaints about them from the Bowling Green community. 

“We probably get two a week, I would guess, on average,” he said. 

Ward said sometimes the scams can be tracked to outside of the country, such as one that led to Florida then left the United States and went to Jamaica.

“I tried to work with the Jamaican police, but they were no help,” he said. 

As far as the students who reported these scams to the police, Johnson said they never called the HelpDesk or sent emails to the WKU accounts about being scammed out of money. The accounts usually just get forwarded emails that look suspicious. Johnson said they get about 250 emails to the accounts monthly.

Lexington sophomore Devan Hall said she is constantly getting sent emails that claim to offer “work at home” jobs.

“Usually, my spam will catch it, but a lot of times, it doesn’t,” she said. “There’s so many of them.”

When she first received one of the emails, she thought it could be something to look into and thought about responding because it sounded like a good deal. She didn’t think the emails seemed to have any dead giveaways or red flags that they were a scam. 

She has previously received emails that claim students can make $600 a week, and offered jobs such as clerical work, answering surveys online or being a personal assistant. 

But when she looked at it further, she didn’t think it seemed legitimate. “The more I looked into it…some of the stuff I read just sounded like a scam.”  

Hall said she had received emails about working at home from someone named Rhea Durham. 

When Johnson was forwarded one of Durham’s emails that offered a job opportunity with no obligations or contracts, he said it was definitely a scam.

Durham has sent emails to WKU students under different emails, but usually with a similar message. 

Johnson said while email scams have become more frequent in the last months, WKU also has had problems with phishing, when students, faculty or staff get emails requesting information. When they follow through and provide information, Johnson said that can lead to compromised email accounts. 

“The most common use of that is, you try to get someone’s email credentials so that you can use their account to send spam,” he said. “And then it looks like it’s coming from them. When we start seeing a user that’s sending from an odd location or a large number of emails, we’ll usually consider the account compromised. We’ll disable it and notify the user they need to change their password.” 

Johnson said there are one or two email accounts compromised each month.

When students, faculty or staff receive these emails, Johnson said they can report them to [email protected] If they receive emails that ask for information, such as email or TopNet login credentials, they can report that to [email protected]

“We encourage users to send emails that they consider suspicious to those accounts and then we look at them,” he said. “If we think it’s a significant problem, we’ll try to take steps to further filter those particular emails out of the system.”

While Johnson said the IT Department has a series of anti-spam filters in place that block over a million emails a month in the student email system, it’s easier to block things like advertisements than these “work at home” scams. 

He said the department can’t block words like “home” or “work” on the filters because that might accidentally filter out emails from professors. 

“Blocking emails and setting filters is tricky business,” he said. “If you set them too strict, you’re going to filter out email that people really want.”

Since not all of these emails can be blocked, Johnson said users have to be cautious. 

“Spammers are very smart,” Johnson said. “They change their profile quickly. They change wording in their emails. They’ll change the server they’re sending them from. 

“At a certain level, you’ve got to have users somewhat wary. They have to…keep themselves educated, they have to keep themselves somewhat knowledgable about what to look for in these emails —  to know whether they’re legitimate or not. If you get an unsolicited email from anybody you don’t know that’s trying to talk you into doing something, you need to delete it.”