Highly customized email scams have been targeting students at U-M with offers of jobs, internships, accommodations, and more. Many of the scammers impersonate U-M professors and other recognizable staff by spoofing their email addresses and using publicly available directory information, such as job titles and department names, to identify themselves.
Be suspicious of any offers for employment or accommodations if you did not apply for or inquire about them. One of the common factors is that the recipients of the scam emails were not pursuing the offer in the scams. When the recipients reply to the phishing emails, the scammers send multiple follow up emails or text messages that attempt to collect personal or financial information from the individuals.
Some examples of actual text from these scam emails are at the bottom of this page.
What to Watch Out For
Fraudulent Email Impersonating Faculty
This scam starts with an email impersonating a U-M professor. Some tricks used to make the email look legitimate include:
- The email is personalized with the name of the recipient in the salutation.
- The "from" field contains the name of an actual U-M professor. The email may use the name, title, contact information of the real faculty member in the signature or other areas. The sending email address may be spoofed. A spoofed email address will look exactly like a real email address. You can find out How to Spot a Spoof on Safe Computing.
- An email address that looks close to a real U-M address may be used. Example: if the real professor is [email protected], the fake account would use [email protected]. A "reply to" may be set to send replies to a non-UM account. Always check the reply-to field before replying to email. Generally, legitimate email from an individual will have matching reply-to and from addresses.
The scammers may request the recipient's assistance in a way that asks for either personal information or financial remittances, or both. The following requests should all be considered a red flag:
- Requests to deposit checks and spend or send back some or all of the money. Check overpayment scams are a common way to fool someone into handing over money. In this version of the scam, the sender provides what seems to be a real check; your bank will credit you for some or all of the check, but when the check proves to be fake, you are stuck with the loss for whatever money you spent. Do not respond to requests to order equipment for a new job, like a laptop, printer, or other things. The scammer may instruct you to go through a preferred agent and use Zelle or Venmo to pay for equipment.
- Requests for payment, particularly prepaid cards or gift cards. A real offer of employment or request for assistance from U-M faculty or staff should not ask you to spend money, particular in the form of providing gift cards or prepaid credit cards to the person contacting you.
- Unusual requests to meet in person. In at least one case, scammers have reportedly asked someone to meet them in person. If you receive a request to meet someone you do not know, particularly to exchange anything of value, be extremely cautious. When in doubt, remember that U-M faculty and staff should be willing to meet at their own offices or a well-trafficked public location.
How to Protect You and U-M
Do not reply. If you receive a suspicious message that appears to be from someone at U-M, look for signs that the email is fraudulent. Most phishing and scams can be spotted quickly. If you find obvious signs of a scam, delete the email, do not reply to it.
Verify and Contact. If there are no obvious signs of phishing but the email content is suspicious (offers of jobs you have not applied for, or contact from someone you do not know, for example), look up that sender's contact information in the MCommunity directory and email or call them yourself instead of using the reply-to in email or the information provided in the email.
Report Phishing and other Email Abuse: ITS Information Assurance has a process for reporting suspicious, abusive, or scam email. Your reports help us to tailor technical responses and provide warnings and guidance to the U-M community.
If you get caught or are concerned that your have given personal information or payment to someone attempting to scam you:
- File a police report.
- See our Identity Theft page if your personal information was compromised.
- See our Compromised Accounts page if you believe your U-M or other accounts have been compromised.
- See What To Do if You Were Scammed from the FTC for information on what to do if you were scammed out of money or personal information.
Please note that to protect the privacy of faculty, staff, and students, actual names and uniqnames may be removed or replaced with generic terms or marked as redacted.
Example 1: Initial contact email
I am Professor [name redacted] of the University of Michigan. I have been instructed by the Office of Student Affairs and Accommodations to guide you in securing suitable accommodation for you here at Umich.
Kindly reply through your private mail; name and and Student ID along with a date and time convenient to you to discuss your information which will determine how we will implement your accommodations.
I will be open to answer any questions you may have regarding your accommodation. After which you will proceed to sign the Accommodation Allotment Registration Form which I will send to you at the end of our discussion via mail.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and I hope to hear from you soon.
[professor's name redacted]
University of Michigan
Example 2: Follow-up text messages in a scam asking a student to make office purchases
Your first task has been sent to your email address. Have you received it yet?
Are you done with your task?
Looks great! Your price details have been received, you will be contacted soon, can you make a Mobile deposit if your paycheck is sent to you?
Your paycheck has been sent. Your paycheck covers your first weekly pay and payment for office supplies. Have you received it yet?
You’re to make a payment worth $719 to the zelle information below and send confirmation of payment completed.