More than a quarter million people reported being cheated out of their money on the Internet in 2014, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. People from ages 20-39 account for more than 40 percent of those losses.
Steven Bunnell, support services supervisor for University Security and Safety, says BYU-Idaho students should be aware of cyber criminals running scams targeted at them.
“In today’s world, it’s easy to be scammed, but if you’re careful, it’s also easy to protect yourself and to get your money back,” Bunnell said. “If things get out of hand, your life is a mess for a long time. There’s no doubt about that.”
Bunnell, who addresses cybersecurity on campus, gave some advice about how to keep your personal information safe online while also taking advantage of online work opportunities.
Bunnell said one common kind of scam is the “Nigerian scam,” also known as 419 fraud. He said this scam has been around since before the Internet, but it has evolved into new forms.
“The reason they call them ‘Nigerian scams’ is because that’s where it originated out of,” Bunnell said. “That’s basically where someone will say they’ve got some type of fund that’s being held in an American bank account, and if you help them get those funds released, they’ll give you a percentage.”
He said that since this scam is so old, people often recognize it when it takes this form, but that it can be less obvious when done differently.
“The ones that we see more of today have to do with things like Craigslist,” Bunnell said. “We even see quite a bit— and we don’t get as much of these as we used to because they’re policing it better— we do see scams run on university’s Bulletin Board site.”
Bunnell said a student was scammed out of thousands of dollars a couple of years ago when they responded to a job offer to take care of horses. The scammer offered to pay them for the work up front, sent them a check for $3,000, and then said they had sent too much money and requested $2,000 back. When the victim sent the money back, the original check bounced and the scammer was never heard from again.
“It’s a cliché, I know, but if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Bunnell said. “As humans, greed is a natural emotion, and it’s easy for the criminal element to take advantage of the need to be successful.”
Bunnell said scammers can masquerade as anything online and will mix in with legitimate online businesses.
He said special care is needed when applying for work online because legitimate companies will need personal information from their employees in order to pay taxes correctly, but scam companies will try to steal that same information.
“You’ve got to do your homework,” Bunnell said.
Bunnell said students can protect themselves from scams by investigating online job offers. They can ask their potential employer for employee references and look up the business on Google to see if it has a business address and phone number and if the address and phone number provided are real.
Students should be cautious about unsolicited job offers, bogus phone numbers and employers who refuse to talk to you on the phone.
Doug Thompson, a campus information security officer, said to be careful when responding to unsolicited email, even if it is related to something the individual has been looking up recently.
“It’s a form of social engineering, is what it is,” Thompson said. “They send you an email with either a link or asking for personal information. The emails are becoming more and more complex and realistic, so that they look like they are from a legitimate business, and so our trust level is that we trust what we see. We will click on it and provide them with information.”
Thompson said banks and other financial institutions are forbidden by federal law to gather personal information through email, so students should not click on links in emails asking for financial information.
“Be careful what information you put out there,” Thompson said. “Is it necessary to put your actual birthdate, or whether you’re male or female? Is that actually important? Once you’ve put things out on the Internet, whether it’s your picture, your personal information — anything — you’ve just opened up the world to your stuff.”
Thompson said strong passwords, email security and up-to-date antivirus programs will protect Internet users from many kinds of cybercrime.
“I don’t know if all students realize this, but [the university] offers free antivirus,” Thompson said.
Students can get free antivirus programs by going to the Computer Help Desk in the David O. McKay Library.
Bunnell said identity theft also exists outside of the Internet. He said that BYU-I students receive many credit applications because of their higher-than-average repayment rates, many of which contain your personal information.
“Don’t just throw those away,” Bunnell said. “At least tear them into many, many pieces.”
Bunnell said that scammers once stole information from a Rexburg resident’s garbage, then used it to order products online when they knew the residents were out of town. When the products arrived, the scammers picked them up and the victim got the bill.
Bunnell said the Internet can be a useful tool as long as its users are careful and knowledgeable.
The FBI’s main website offers more detailed information about many kinds of Internet fraud, including auction, credit card, investment, business and non-delivery fraud.