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Online scammers target students

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Alondra Campos
Staff Writer

Cybercrime is criminal activity carried out by means of computers or the Internet to obtain confidential information, and college students are among the people most susceptible of being a victim of cyber crimes. 

Despite this, more than 64% of college students in the U.S are not concerned about their online privacy and safety, according to an annual 2018 study of college students conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research.

Scholarship scams, financial aid scams, fake credit card offers and employment scams are the most common forms of cybercrime, according to the Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust. 

Staci Baird, assistant professor of strategic communications, said modern technology facilitates the opportunity for hackers to obtain personal or private information.

“Most of our personal information, such as credit card information, bank accounts and usernames and passwords are stored in a digital format, which makes online crimes much scarier than before,” Baird said. “If a hacker can get into just one of your accounts, it’s most likely they could get the rest of your private information.”

Baird said that when she is in the computer lab, she finds that students often forget to sign out of their student accounts.

“All it takes is a couple of clicks and someone could ultimately view all of your private information and history,” Baird said.

Consumers ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than seniors to fall victim to a scam, according to the Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace and Trust.

With scholarship scams being one of the most common forms of cybercrimes attacking college students, Baird recommends to conduct thorough research on the source.

“If a student receives an email about financial aid, they should first verify where the email is coming from before clicking any link or submitting personal information,” Baird said. “They can right click the given website or source, enter it into the search box, and if it does not take them to a trustworthy website, the student should dismiss the email.”

Baird also recommends checking for grammatical errors since emails sent by hackers are usually poorly written as well as create secure usernames and passwords for any account.

“I used to work in technical support and you could laugh at how many people have passwords on sticky notes under their keyboards,” Baird said. “Proper storage of important information is essential to preventing the risk of getting hacked. You could also get creative with your passwords, such as using the dollar sign instead of an ‘s’ or little things like that.”

In 2017, 22% of college students were notified that they were victims of identity theft either by a debt collector or when they were denied credit three times higher than average fraud victims, according to the Javelin Study and Research report.

On Sept. 17, the University’s director of safety operations Ruben Ibarra sent out an email to all students regarding a credit card scam that a student reported. 

A student sent money to an individual posing as a representative from a collection agency.

In the email, Ibarra stated that students should not be quick to provide payments of any form or freely give their government information, such as social security numbers or an address, over the phone or through email.

“We should treat our communication with people online the same way we communicate with someone in person,” Dean of Students Juan Regalado said. “We wouldn’t give our private information to someone we just met and we shouldn’t give that information to someone online either.”

Regalado said students should be cautious of buying items from unofficial websites.

“False advertisement online is not new in this era and scammers can easily fool people into giving a payment or social security number,” Regalado said. “Flyers are copied and pasted online and made to look real when they’re just a trap.”

Marwan Hassan, sophomore computer engineering major, said he recently received an email that appeared to be sent from Netflix’s headquarters but turned out to be a scam.

“The email stated that my Netflix account was supposedly logged into by an unknown user and asked me to click a link to put in my Netflix username and password,” Hassan said. “Instead I clicked the email address and a series of numbers, letters and symbols popped up.”

Hassan said he searched for Netflix’s account support email online and found that it was help.netflix.com, which had no correlation to the source that sent him the email.

“I looked at the font and format of the email and found that it was not the same as other emails I received from Netflix,” Hassan said. “Many hackers send emails with links where you’re asked to put your information and they could stalk or steal your identity with just one click.”

Regalado said that although ULV has a strong firewall that filters students’ emails for scams or frauds and the Office of Technology Services sends out public service announcements about online safety, their security network does not filter students’ social media accounts.

“Your social media presence has a big impact on how vulnerable and easily accessible you are to all kinds of people, including hackers,” Regalado said. “Individuals who commit cybercrimes are more likely to hack into public accounts than those that are private.”

Regalado said online safety not only deals with credit card frauds or scholarship scams, but with bullying and exploitation too. 

Caleb Johnson, senior criminology and rhetorical communications major, said setting boundaries on who has access to your personal life is a strategy to practice to keep your identity safe online.

“It’s important to make sure you’re not doing inappropriate behavior online that increases your chances of being a victim of online cybercrime,” Johnson said. “Students often do not choose who they let into their lives online and that can lead to unwanted attention.”

Approximately 70% of 18 to 29 year olds have been the target of cyber harassment, with more than half of those being women, according to an Online Harassment 2017 report by the Pew Research Center.

“Online trolls only need one post, video or picture to exploit you and shame you without giving context to who you really are as a person,” Regalado said. “Turning your private settings on your social media is a small action that can make a big difference.”

Although antivirus and protective software can be costly, the price you have to pay may be worth the security of your private information online.

“A lot of people complain about how expensive security software is but they don’t realize the great amount of benefits that come with purchasing it,” Hassan said. 

Scams, frauds or suspicious online activity can be reported to the University’s Safety Operations by email at ribarra@laverne.edu or by phone at 909-448-4959.

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

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