The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Scam Strikes Campus

3 min read


UMW students checking their school e-mail should be wary of an message containing death threats from a supposed hit man, according to a warning issued Feb. 18 by the Department of Information Technology and the UMW Police.

In the e-mail, the hit man demands $15,000 to divulge the name of a close friend who supposedly ordered the hit.

The warning, which is similar to a recent cautionary statement from the University of Michigan, was released after a student alerted police about the e-mail.

“The student knew the email was a fake,” said Clay Calvert, Director of Information Technology Security. “But they reported it because of the grievous tone of the message.”

The Police and Information Technology Departments decided that the malicious nature of the e-mail demanded a stronger response than that given to most Internet scams, according to Campus Police Chief James Snipes.

Snipes said that by threatening the recipient of the e-mail, the originator of the scam is committing a class six felony.

“Any electronic communication threatening harm to a person and their families is breaking the law,” he said.

Vice-President of Information Technology Chip German said that the e-mail was a disturbing variation on a common hoax scheme.

“This type of e-mail is called a phishing ploy,” German said. “The goal is to get the recipient to give out personal information like names, addresses and social security numbers.”

However, German said that although scams like the hit man e-mail remain too common, the hit man e-mail’s threatening tone departed from the normal scam e-mail template.

Snipes agreed that the e-mail represented a new level of intimidation in hoax schemes.

“As far as emails go, this is the first I’ve seen that is outright extortion,” he said.

“The trick of pretending to be someone else in order to get money is not a new technique,” German said. “However, about ten years ago email hoaxes preyed on greed. This new email preys on fear.”

Calvert compared the hit man scam to another, more traditional phishing ploy that occurred over the summer.

“Spammers started targeting UMW addresses claiming to be from the Virginia Credit Union,” Calvert said. “The spammers were ‘phishing’ to get enough information to create fake credit cards.”

Calvert said that although only one student reported the hit man email, any student could potentially receive it.

However,he said the UMW server’s spam filter have been updated to recognize the email, which should prevent other students from receiving it.

“The originator of this hoax used a very different technique to get past filters that were in place at the time,” Calvert said. “Our spam filter gets updated constantly and scams such this hit-man hoax will typically get added fairly quickly.”

Snipes said that the originator of the email is unknown. However, he said that the case is currently under investigation by the FBI, which has received 115 reports of the email from Virginia.

German offered advice to help concerned students recognize that the email was a hoax.  He said that the best indicator was the lack of personal information.

“The email just says ‘hello.’ There’s no personal identification,” he said.

He advised students who received the email or those like it to check its authenticity.

“There are plenty of sites that keep an updated index of hoax emails,” he said. “I advise students who are concerned to investigate them.”

However, German said that the best option was simply to delete the message.