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Got Spam? College IT department has some advice and ways to help

The IT Department has created a website to help students spot the recent scourge of spam emails that Hunter students have been receiving in their inboxes — before they get tricked. The department is hoping to stem the rash of email scams that, according to IT support assistant Steve Foster, has caused hundreds of Hunter students to get their email accounts shut down within the past month alone.

Students can use the website to subscribe to live updates from IT support assistants about new types of spam emails to look out for. They can do so by logging in using their NETID and clicking the “Subscribe” button at the top of the web page.

The website details the different spam emails that students are receiving and is updated by IT support assistants as they receive new information about new types of spam. The dangerous links inside of these spam emails are typically being disguised as job opportunities, important documents shared by classmates or even letters from President Jennifer Raab.

IT support assistant Vincent Wu at work in the IT Department's office, Room 303 Hunter North.
IT support assistant Vincent Wu at work in the IT Department’s office, Room 303 Hunter North.
Photo by Michael Waxman

According to IT support assistant Vincent Wu, the initial source of the spam is outside of Hunter’s servers. Therefore, Hunter’s IT Department cannot take any measures to proactively prevent the spam emails from infiltrating students’ inboxes. However, the department is using the website to educate students on how to properly spot spam emails in hopes that all Hunter students will eventually stop clicking on the links inside of them.

This surge of spam emails has been growing increasingly problematic for students since the beginning of the summer. However, the website states that the prevalence of spam emails that contain green boxes in the bodies of the messages has increased over the past few months. Wu stresses that these emails are especially dangerous because they change the emails’ subjects based on students’ conversation history in order to make them appear more personal. This is a tactic used by spam creators to make recipients less suspicious of the emails and therefore more likely to click the links inside of them. Wu provided the following example:

If a Hunter student has been taking a Spanish class this past semester, they may have received an email with a subject that says “Re: Spanish quiz” or “Re: Spanish study guide”. They would be more likely to open the link inside of an email with that subject as opposed to a link inside of a spam email with a subject that might, for example, read “Explode your business” or “Consolidate credit or debit”.

When a student clicks on the link inside of a spam email, their own email account will be hacked by the spam virus and begin to send out spam mail to as many students within Hunter’s servers as it can until CUNY Central notices. CUNY Central is the CUNY-wide IT department that provides solutions to IT issues that are outside of the scope of individual schools such as Hunter. At that point, CUNY Central will shut down that student’s ability to send emails from their account. These are protections that are set in place by CUNY Central so that they can limit the amount of spam emails that CUNY students receive.

Students have also had their bank accounts hacked as a result of an ongoing shadow shopping scam.

Over the summer, student Ariana Joseph received an email from a fellow student about a job opportunity to be a mystery shopper. Mystery shoppers are people who are employed by manufacturers or retailers to pose as shoppers, in order to evaluate the quality of customer service of the company they are buying products from. Joseph looked up the job on Glassdoor to learn that it was a real job with good reviews. After applying, Joseph was instructed by the supposed employer to provide her home address so that the company could send her a check to be deposited. After depositing said check, Joseph’s bank account was hacked.

“It was such a nuisance because I had to close my bank account and deal with many things on top of that due to the spam. Now I ignore all spam emails, but I receive them constantly,” said Joseph.

The IT Department stresses that although no proactive measures can be taken to prevent spam emails from entering students’ inboxes, students can help to resolve the issue over time by not opening spam emails themselves. If every Hunter student stopped clicking the links inside of the emails, the spam virus would no longer have any way to continue hacking Hunter students’ email accounts and sending spam to other Hunter students from said email accounts.

“I would say the best advice is to not open any links from people you don’t know,” concluded Wu. “And definitely don’t put out any of your login information.”

“Be careful with what emails you open,” emphasized Foster. “If it looks suspicious, don’t follow it. Even if it’s from a trusted person, that doesn’t mean their account hasn’t been compromised before.”

For more information on the different spam emails that are occurring, you can subscribe to the IT department’s security notices at https://owl.hunter.cuny.edu/ords/f?p=113:1. You can also contact the IT department by emailing them studenthelpdesk@hunter.cuny.edu, calling them at 212-650-3624 or visiting them at Hunter North Room 303 during posted hours.

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