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Phishing: Fraudulent Emails, Text Messages, Phone Calls & Social Media

As any type of fraud, phishing can be extremely damaging and has already claimed victims on campus. Use these pages to find out more about phishing - what it is and what risks it poses. Don't get hooked! Learn how to protect yourself against phishing scams and identity theft.

What is Phishing?

Phishing refers to different types of online scams that ‘phish’ for your personal and financial information (e.g., your passwords, Social Security Number, bank account information, credit card numbers, or other personal information).

These messages claim to come from a legitimate source: a well-known software company, online payment service, bank, or other reputable institution. Some will use an organization's email address, logo, and other trademarks to fake authenticity. Phishing messages may also appear to be from a trusted friend or colleague. See below for details on phishing attacks at UMass Amherst.

Phishing messages can come from a growing number of sources, including:

  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Fraudulent software (e.g, anti-virus)
  • Social Media messages (e.g., Facebook, Twitter)
  • Advertisements
  • Text messages

What is spear phishing?

More sophisticated attacks, known as spear phishing, are personalized messages from scammers posing as people or institutions that you trust. They often collect identifiable information about you from social media or the compromised account of someone you know to make their messages more convincing. Never transmit sensitive information over email or social media, even if the message requesting information appears to be legitimate. 

Signs of phishing include:

  • Ultimatum: An urgent warning attempts to intimidate you into responding without thinking. ‘Warning! You will lose your email permanently unless you respond within 7 days’.
  • Incorrect URLs: Scammers may obscure URLs by using hyperlinks that appear to go to a reputable site. Hover your mouse over any suspicious links to view the address of the link. Illegitimate links often contain a series of numbers or unfamiliar web addresses.
  • No signature or contact information: Additional contact information is not provided.
  • Too good to be true offer: Messages about contests you did not enter or offers for goods or services at an unbelievable price are likely fraudulent.
  • Style inconsistencies: Pop up windows that claim to be from your operating system or other software may have a different style or colors than authentic notifications. Messages that claim to be from a reputable organization may be missing branding aspects such as a logo.
  • Spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors: Some messages will include mistakes. ‘Email owner that refuses to update his or her Email, within Seven days’
  • Attention-grabbing titles: "Clickbait" titles (e.g., "You won't believe this video!") on social media, advertisements or articles are sensationalist or attention-grabbing and sometimes lead to scams.

For more information, see the FTC's page about Phishing.

What are the Risks?

Don’t be fooled! These are fraudulent communications that in most cases have nothing to do with the institution they claim to be affiliated with. Opening, replying, or clicking the links provided in these emails poses a serious security risk to you and the campus network.

Some of the risks involved are:

  • Identity theft: Once you provide your personal information in response to a phishing attempt, this information can be used to access your financial accounts, make purchases, or secure loans in your name.
  • Virus infections: Some fraudulent emails include links or attachments that, once clicked, download malicious software to your computer. Others may also install keystroke loggers that record your computer activity.
  • Loss of personal data: Some phishing attacks will attempt to deploy crypto malware on your machine, malicious software that encrypts files on a victim’s computer and denies owners access to their files until they pay a ransom.
  • Compromising institutional information: If your university IT account is compromised, scammers may be able to access sensitive institutional information and research data.
  • Putting friends and family at risk: If your personal information is accessed, attackers will scan your accounts for personal information about your contacts and will in turn attempt to phish for their sensitive information. Phishers may also send emails and social media messages from your accounts in an attempt to gain information from your family, friends, and colleagues.

Phishing Attacks at UMass Amherst

Members of the university community may have received more targeted phishing emails, asking specifically for their IT Account NetID and/or password. These fraudulent emails claim to be official university communications (or otherwise originate from a legitimate office on campus). Most will ask you to ‘immediately update’ your personal information or face serious consequences.

Don’t be fooled! These emails do not come from UMass Amherst IT/UMass Amherst. They are fraudulent messages attempting to compromise your personal information.

UMass Amherst IT will never ask for your IT Account password or other sensitive information via email or link.

Note: UMass Amherst IT uses sophisticated email filtering software to automatically detect and block SPAM, phishing, malware, etc. To help mitigate risks, the filtering software and IT staff may take action including blocking or removing these types of emails.

The email filtering software is not foolproof and some unwanted messages may get through. It is critical that you learn to identify phishing scams, take the appropriate steps to protect your computer and your information, and report messages to IT.

Visit this page for instructions on how to report phishing messages to UMass Amherst IT.