The University Record, March 5, 2001

IT User Advocate group warns against e-mail hoax

By Kim Cobb
Information Technology Central Services

There is a common scam—spread by e-mail as well as U.S. mail—that has been circulating for at least 10 years. Recently, many members of the University community have seen this scam firsthand via e-mail. The Information Technology (IT) User Advocate wants to make computer users aware of it.

The hoax comes in several forms, including “next of kin,” “Nigerian 419” and others, all of which claim that you’ll soon be wealthy if you agree to help the sender unfreeze some assets. All of these promises are false; however, the U.S. Secret Service indicates that many victims have been enticed into believing they have been singled out to share in promises of multimillion-dollar windfall profits.

“We want the campus community to be aware of this scam,” says Elizabeth Sweet, IT user advocate. “Our concern is that the scam can appear legitimate to an unsuspecting person because of the official- looking titles, stamps, seals and logos that often accompany it. The goal is to ensure that members of the University community are familiar with the hoax so that they do not fall victim to it. If you receive an e-mail that appears suspicious, the best thing to do is simply delete it.”

For further information about these and other types of Internet hoaxes, see www.itd.umich.edu/virusbusters/ and http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/HBScams.shtml or visit the U.S. Treasury Department’s Web site for detailed information (www.treas.gov/usss/index.htm?alert419.htm&1).

For more information about the IT User Advocate, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~itua/.


Some tips that may help you avoid becoming a victim of these frauds:

  • Realize that if the “opportunity” sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Know whom you are dealing with. If you have not heard of the entity with which you are considering doing business, learn more about it.

  • Follow common business practices.

  • Be sure you fully understand any business agreement into which you enter.

  • Be wary of businesses that operate out of post office boxes or mail drops and do not have a street address, or of dealing with people who do not have a direct telephone line or who are never available when you call but always return your call later.

  • Be wary of business deals that require you to sign nondisclosure or noncircumvention agreements that are designed to prevent you from independently verifying the integrity of the people with whom you are considering doing business.