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Davis, California

Monday, March 4, 2024

Students lose money to email, phone scams claiming to be professors, ICE

Multiple widespread fraud campaigns have led the UC Davis Police Department to issue crime alerts urging students to stay vigilant


By KATHLEEN QUINN— campus@theaggie.org


On Oct. 19, the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) issued a fraud warning to students to be on the look-out for emails that appear to be professors offering jobs. For the students who responded, scammers would claim that they needed to purchase computer equipment which led to a request for money in the form of gift cards or Zelle transfers.

Sterling Beauchamp, a third-year transfer student in applied mathematics, said he was contacted about a research assistant position in August by one of these scammers pretending to be a well-known psychology professor.

“[The email] was offering some absurd amount of money, like a $500 a week, work from home type of deal,” Beauchamp said. “My first red flag was the professor [they] were claiming to be wasn’t using their UC Davis email.”

Joseph Farrow, the chief of police at UCDPD, said the scammers will use familiar names of professors as a way of enticing students into responding.

UC Davis keeps a log of the scams on its “phishbowl” page. Within the month of October, 17 phishing emails were confirmed.

“The fake job scam is nothing new,” Cheryl Washington, the chief information security officer at UC Davis, said via email. “In the past month, our adversaries have escalated the volume of job scam email campaigns dramatically.”

Beauchamp said that after an initial text with the phone number provided in the email, he was referred to a secondary number.

“They wanted me to go down to Walmart to check the price of a printer, and I said ‘Yeah, I’ll definitely go and do that for you, just send me the standard paperwork,’” Beauchamp said. “They weren’t able to produce paperwork, so I said, ‘Hey, I’ll see you around, you guys are wasting my time.’”

Washington said that they see around 15-20 job scam campaigns each day.

“Sometimes the message claims to be a UC Davis professor,” Washington said via email. “Other times they pose as external parties offering jobs or internships. Whichever tactic is successful then gets repeated multiple times.”

With the job scam in particular, Farrow is aware of three reports submitted to the department, including one where a student reported that they had lost $400.

Washington said that she is aware of 10 cases in the last month where students reported that they lost money.

“Victims, however, are oftentimes embarrassed to come forward, so we suspect there may be more,” Washington said via email. “We strongly encourage victims to contact the campus information security office.”

The California Aggie obtained a screenshot of the email sent to Beauchamp. In the email, it requested his full name, a working phone number and his year of study and provided a 747 area code phone number to reply to for further information.

Even after not moving forward with the job offer, Beauchamp said that the scammers kept contacting him.

“They texted me again recently trying to get me to sign up for something,” Beauchamp said.

Another ongoing campaign which Farrow refers to as the “ICE scam” resulted in the loss of approximately 240,000 Chinese Yuan, which translates to over $37,000 for one student.

“Phone calls to your personal phone that claim to be some government authority, like the IRS or ICE, have resulted in UC Davis students losing thousands of dollars out of fear of being jailed or deported,” Washington said via email.

Under the Services for International Students and Scholars website, there are resources international students can use to help identify suspicious phone calls or emails as well as information on how to contact the police.

“They’ll play off the fact that you have to have a visa, and you’re subject to all the immigration laws and that sort of thing,” Farrow said. “It will basically say something like, ‘Your visa is expiring or your visa is no good, your visa is going to be withheld. You need to immediately leave the country, but I can help you — and you want me to help you.’”

One tactic UC Davis has used to curb these types of attacks is the use of Duo for dual authentication.

“As we are seeing, one compromised account has a critical negative impact on the campus community at large,” Washington said via email. “Duo is in place to protect you as a member of the community as much as protecting your individual computing account.”

Some scammers have found creative ways to avoid detection by the university’s automatic fraud detection system — submitting their requests to smaller groups of students.

“In general, be very wary of any email message that directs you not to use your campus email account for communicating,” Washington said via email. “The hackers know very well that this will bypass all the UC Davis email security controls.”

Farrow said he is aware that sometimes people can be afraid to contact the police, but this is an area that they can be helpful.

“We could just help people, we don’t even need to know their name,” Farrow said. “They can just call us up and say, ‘Hey can I play this thing for you? What do you think?’ We could save people a lot of pain.”


Written by: Kathleen Quinn — campus@theaggie.org



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