Thursday, October 01, 2009

Not You

A recent phishing scam involved an unknown and nefarious person who sent an email to faculty in my department 'from' one of our departmental colleagues who had an emergency whilst traveling and needed a quick infusion of cash. This scam is surely being repeated in other departments/universities.

The fascinating thing is that this email appeared to be from the only person in my entire department who actually might end up unexpectedly and unannounced in a foreign city and then lose wallet, phone, and everything else and suddenly need money sent. This person is also the only one who is likely to attempt such a transaction entirely by vague email to colleagues.

Given that the basic scenario was actually kind of believable in the case of this particular person, the other fascinating aspect involves how various other departmental colleagues detected the scam. I have conducted an unofficial poll, and there are two strong contenders for the primary red flags:

1. The email opens with a polite statement that says the sender hopes that we and our families are well. Our real colleague would never ask about our families (or us).

2. The email, although not well written, is surprisingly cogent and includes capital letters and punctuation. That would be very uncharacteristic of our colleague.

This made me wonder what would signal a scam email (or blog post) that appeared to be from me but was not really from/by me. Would a giveaway be references to sports or other important American Cultural Icons? Photos of dogs? A poem extolling my fondness for university accounting systems? An ode to faculty meetings?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

you not complaining about micro-inequalities.

stories about perfect gender equality. males & females equal. male = female finally.

you not bitching about other male faculties or any other males

stories of other males on campus respecting you...

if a blog has any bad grammar or spelling, then not you....

if you said bad things about your precious daughter, then it is not you. your daughter must be perfect, because never any bad stories :)

wait till she becomes a teenager....and change.

Anonymous said...

Top 10 list:
1) Sincere modesty.
2) Admission of error.
3) Appreciation of human emotions.
4) Appreciation that others may have conflicting perceptions and interests without being foolish and/or evil.
5) Provision of sufficient detail to permit readers to draw their own conclusions from anecdotes and examples.
6) Empathy for undergraduates from underprivileged backgrounds who are unaware of academic niceties.
7-10) Self-awareness.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that if your colleague supposedly did lose his wallet and phone and everything while in a foreign country as was believed, that no one thought it strange that he was sending a mass e-mail his department for emergency assistance rather than contacting his family or close friends. didn't anyone in the department find this strange that they were being contacted about this?

Anonymous said...

Lack of sarcasm?

a physicist said...

Dear Readers,

Posting will be sporadic this week. I am currently trapped in a foreign country and have no access to my students' data. My laptop was eaten by a zebra and so I am writing this from an internet cafe and can't access my regular email account, although fortunately I can still access blogger because that is the only password I have memorized.

I have an urgent need to submit several papers this week so this is causing me much distress because I can't access the computer the papers are on. The editors have promised me AUTOMATIC ACCEPTANCE of my manuscripts which will result in HUGE PUBLICITY but I need YOUR HELP. I need you send me any manuscript you are working on that is near completion, so that I can submit it so I don't lose all of my grant money and then my students will be homeless and will never get jobs and my kitties will all be sad. I would prefer if you send me manuscripts that you plan to submit to Science or Nature. Since my normal email is broken, please send the manuscripts to profdrfemalesciencephd@yahoo.com which is the email address I am using this week. I promise I will split 10% of the credit with you when these manuscripts are published.

Your friend in science,
FSP

John V said...

FSP,

While I appreciate the benefits of your posting a wide range of views, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th responses detract from attention to subjects you so ably and uniquely discuss.

Aside from the anonymous snarkiness, they are simply inaccurate.

Regarding the 3rd response, I interpreted that no one fell for the scam - did anyone?

Anonymous said...

"1. The email opens with a polite statement that says the sender hopes that we and our families are well. Our real colleague would never ask about our families (or us)."

Hah! It seems that, while the scammer may have (accidentally?) selected the only likely candidate for such a disaster, he or she may also have selected the candidate who will elicit the least sympathy in the reader.

aceon said...

I personally prefer a cup of coffee to get me going in the morning, as opposed to a shot of bile. Why read a blog if you dislike the author?

You are inimitable, FSP. It might be fun to try though.

Schlupp said...

Yessss! When I read the post, I had a certain bet with myself. And I won directly with the two very first comments. So, I get some espresso now.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

AHAHAHAHAH! FSP, I just knew this post was gonna bring out the bitter ineffectual trolls.

female Science Professor said...

Re. the negative comments: The negative comments were predictable. I also won a bet on them.. with myself.

Siz said...

Hmmmmmm. . . Me and everyone on my step-father's contact list received a similar email. Surprisingly, he was in North London and had no access to a phone. Also, the email was not written using proper spelling, punctuation, which for me was a dead give-away that it wasn't him.

This isn't just a university thing, it is a quite large scam that some group has masterminded.

Anonymous said...

I think you are becoming famous, FSP!

This is a very interesting story. We don't have these sorts of scams at my U, as far as I know, but we did have people standing outside of classrooms the first week handing freshman calc students slips of paper telling them where they could "buy their required supplementary texts" -- none of which were required or recommended or maybe even related. A scam, pure and simple.

I frankly don't understand the vitriol you attract. I even know a guy (husband) who feels all discussion of micro-inequalities is some sort of counter-productive whining, but I still don't understand why at all. A huge chasm of lack of understanding is revealed. I don't understand why talking about (those aspects of) my life is so unacceptable; it's just another real life, like yours.

(Thinking aloud: Maybe I can compare it to talking about the weather. It gets dark and snowy here for many months. Some people get SAD, some people complain now & then but are relatively happy anyway; some people let the weather stop them from doing things and others take advantage of it. But no one gets pissed off at someone else for talking about the weather a lot: we love to talk about the weather! Why is weather different than micro- and macro-inequalities? I think it's because it makes some people feel bad, as they subconsciously realize they may be perpetrators... while no one is responsible for the weather.)

a physicist said...

Regarding the negative comments: I think FSP has a wise policy on censoring comments, which she has stated before. If I remember correctly, she only censors blatant advertising, obscene off-topic posts, and random guesses at her identity. This is smart, it saves her time and energy trying to decide which stupid comments cross subtle lines of obnoxiousness.

Anonymous said...

"no one thought it strange that he was sending a mass e-mail his department for emergency assistance rather than contacting his family or close friends. didn't anyone in the department find this strange that they were being contacted about this?"

The emails weren't just sent over lists but to everyone in the address book. Many of his closest friends are colleagues and students, and he tends to use email as his primary form of communication. He is probably the one case where the scenario was plausible, and many people were trying to get a hold of him, but it's rather difficult since he mostly uses email.

butterflywings said...

'The fascinating thing is that this email appeared to be from the only person in my entire department who actually might end up unexpectedly and unannounced in a foreign city and then lose wallet, phone, and everything else and suddenly need money sent. This person is also the only one who is likely to attempt such a transaction entirely by vague email to colleagues.'

Ha! I would so do that. Mind you don't think I'd e-mail. Unless it was a stupid hour of the night/ early morning at home. Then maybe I would.

Anonymous said...

I am quite amazed at the vitriol, too. I am starting to get a really unpleasant view of the blogosphere, especially for the female bloggers... Anyways, the post was interesting FSP, and the comment I liked most was the one about "you" requesting our almost completed manuscripts :)

-femprof
-

Anonymous said...

Me and everyone on my step-father's contact list received a similar email. Surprisingly, he was in North London and had no access to a phone..

Funny, the same thing happened to my mom as well -- and this is when she was stuck at Heathrow as her flight got delayed. Maybe a London-based gang? :)
--k

Petroc said...

I load up FSP to find a blog post decrying the dogmatic idolatry of Darwin within the sciences, along with several clinching arguments against any science which might support evolution or the 4.5 b.y.o. earth "fabrication." "Biological complexity abounds," the blog reads, "with no explanation in sight." Later on, "The banana: proof of design. Perfectly suited for human consumption, seedless, turns yellow to indicate ripeness."

Anonymous said...

the same scam happened to my mother-in-laws email, but I know that she was foolish enough to respond to one of those phishing emails that says 'this is account security, please email us your password to keep your account active'. She had to get an entirely new email account and still doesn't realise what she did wrong. So maybe this is a new sign of computer illiteracy on behalf of our colleagues / friends.

Anonymous said...

"I personally prefer a cup of coffee to get me going in the morning, as opposed to a shot of bile. Why read a blog if you dislike the author?"

You see ...I am a politics buff. And you do know that a lot of liberals love listening to Savage and O'Reilly and Limbaugh, right?

For the (Anonymous) record, I love FSP and love hating her. And in any case, aren't we academics known to be perverted?

Ms.PhD said...

I'm with the people who say you should cut down on allowing the nasty comments through. If only so we don't have to read them, too. I get enough of that on my own blog and at work, thank you. I don't need to see it here too, and I really do think that giving these people a voice is implying that they have a right to speak to you- and the rest of us- this way. They don't.

You're in control. They'll still be there, you won't forget about them since they'll probably still write these comments from time to time. But maybe you should relegate them to a Hall of Nitwits section of your page if you insist on publishing their unwitty commentary. It definitely makes me cringe and feel more stressed out every time I see this kind of thing, and since I already know these trolls exist, it's not educational. It's harassment.

Having said that, again, I smiled at this post. It is either a funny coincidence that it was this particular colleague's name, or a sad statement on how many professors are really like that (I can think of many who fit the few factoids you shared, just off the top of my head).

I also got this email but it was made to appear to be from someone I don't know all that well, and whom I know would never ever ask me for money. In this particular case her name is deceptively common, so I knew it had to be spam from that alone.

EliRabett said...

Has anyone figured out how the pfishers got the Email address book?