Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 11, 2019

Phishing Scheme Targets Professors’ Desire to Please Their Deans — All For $500 In Gift Cards

ITunes $500Chronicle of Higher Education, Phishing Scheme Targets Professors’ Desire to Please Their Deans — All for $500 in Gift Cards:

Rachel E. Brenner was in her apartment one Thursday morning when she got the urgent email. Jason E. Lane, her interim dean, needed help on "something very important right away."

Brenner, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University at Albany's School of Education, hurried out the door and drove to campus, her mind abuzz. Maybe it was about her research, which they'd discussed the day before. As soon as she walked into her office, she wrote back: "I'm free!"

It was then that she got the dispiriting reply. He wanted Brenner to buy iTunes gift cards for his cousin's birthday. What an abuse of power directed at a young female professor, she thought, and so out of character for Lane, whom she knew to be a good guy.

That's because it wasn't Lane. Brenner quickly realized she was the target of a phishing scam — one that has targeted faculty members at more than a dozen universities and perhaps unknowingly exploits academe's power dynamics for some quick cash.

Phishers have posed as deans and department chairs, asking professors to purchase and send photos of gift cards for iTunes or Amazon. The scam has been employed nearly identically at departments from Harvard University to Appalachian State University, from the University of Houston to the University of Iowa.

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