Internet scams pose serious threat

Online harassment and scams

Eric Coulter

Online harassment and scams

Chelsea Lane

Modern technology makes it easy for students to keep track of personal information with just the click of a button, but it can be just as easy for someone else to access that information and use it for identity theft or other scams.

“All they really need now is your name, your home phone and your work phone,” said John Wezeman, Grand Valley State University help desk supervisor, of identity theft.

The help desk or IT will never ask students for passwords or any other personal information without verifying their identity first.

Associate Director of Academic Systems John Klein said the anonymous nature of Internet interaction makes it an especially attractive tool for scammers or extorters. Klein cited a general rule for socializing on the Internet: limit personal contact to people you also know in real life, not just electronically.

“If you don’t know who the e-mail came from, just delete it,” Klein said.

Unsolicited or anonymous e-mails often contain malware, spyware, viruses and other programs that can gain access to a computer’s files or use the computer to spread malware and spam to others. As people often store personal information data electronically, it can make accessing sensitive information an easy task for hackers, Wezeman said.

“Don’t create a Word document or a spreadsheet with all of your banking and routing information and things like that,” he said. “Those are very easy to get.”

Klein added another increasingly common online scam is the creation of fraudulent Facebook pages, where the scammer attempts to befriend other users and solicit personal information from them that can then be used for identity theft or other crimes. Some scammers will also claim to have compromising information or photos of a person in order to extort them for money or personal data.

“Whatever you put on your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or whatever you have is public information,” Klein said. “Pretend you just released it to Channel 8 News because that’s how public it is.”

Wezeman agreed.

“The information that you give somebody on Facebook, is that information you would be willing to stand up in front of 300 people and shout it over a PA?” he asked. “Is it the same information you would tell your mother?”

Other sites such as ebay and Craigslist are also popular targets for scammers. When selling items online, Klein recommends shipping them with a signature requirement so the buyer must personally verify they received the item and cannot claim they never received it later.

“If you’re meeting somebody to sell something, meet them in a public place,” Wezeman added. “Don’t go to their house, or bring a friend who can go with you.”

If a student feels they are a victim of harassment, fraud or unwanted contact, Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, advised bringing any e-mails, text records or other data when reporting the harassment to police so DPS can use the information to obtain search warrants and further investigative leads.

“Report this behavior sooner rather than later,” he added.

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