‘Bear Aware’ alert system works to prevent ID thefts

By Maegan Rocio
Staff Writer

Baylor Information Technology Services is alerting students about potential identity thieves and the importance of keeping email account information confidential.

Jon Allen, of information security at Baylor ITS said Baylor has had about five compromised email accounts since Aug. 1, and 13 since July 1.

Last year, Baylor ITS dealt with 40 to 50 compromised email accounts, Allen said in the email.

Allen also said the number of compromised email accounts rises at the beginning of the school year because of new users who are not aware of scam emails.

Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and dean of University Libraries, said Baylor ITS is using email alerts called Bear Aware bulletins to address the subject of identity theft.

“We try to do that every fall, because as we get new students and new members of our community, they may not be as aware of some of the tricks that these bad people use,” she said.

Scammers send out bogus emails claiming to be from Baylor officials and departments around campus.

Orr said the spam messages ask for personal information and some people unfortunately respond with those details.

While the more obvious scams are easy to locate and delete, Orr said the identity thieves have become more web-and tech-savvy in order to steal as much information as they can.

To accomplish this, scammers send out emails that sound urgent to convince potential victims.

“They’ve captured the graphics and done all they can to seem legitimate,” she said. “Everything wasn’t as convincing as before. Everything used to be misspelled and you could tell that it wasn’t legitimate, but not anymore.”

Orr said after gaining information requested in their bogus emails, identity thieves continue their scams by gaining information from others and using the compromised email account to send out more emails.

Identity thieves cannot stay connected to one network too long after stealing information, Orr said.

“They have to keep moving around, because if we get into a serious situation, we would be working with campus police, the FBI, whoever, to try to stop the people who are trying to steal another’s identity and all,” she said. “They can’t just use their own account at home or whatever. They have to keep breaking into other accounts to find a new place, and then they may send out hundreds of thousands [of] emails to other potential victims from your account.”

Orr also said identity thieves will use the information they have been given to figure out if their victim has other sensitive accounts, such as a bank account, and try to break into them.

There are steps students, faculty and staff members can take to ensure that their information stays protected.

“If you ever get a Bear Aware alert or an ITS alert message, it’s probably really important and it’s highly recommended that you read those,” she said. “‘Read-and-heed’ as we say sometimes, because we are trying to tell you there’s something going on, and you don’t want to wait until we have to get the police involved to start investigating terrible things that have happened.”

Orr also said allowing updates on personal computers can help prevent identity theft. “When you get those messages that say you need to do your updates on your Microsoft software or your Adobe software or Java software or things like that, sometimes students don’t want to do it right then and there,” she said. “But when Microsoft does those regular updates, it’s because vulnerabilities have been found.”

Orr also said that even giving a well-known friend your password is a risk because they may not be as careful with it as you are, and someone else could manage to get it.

Orr said that identity thieves use dictionaries to try and guess the most common words people use as passwords.

She said creating “stronger” passwords will help prevent sensitive information from being stolen.

“Don’t use the same passwords for the same accounts,” Orr said. “Have separate passwords for your most critical accounts, like Baylor and your bank, and make sure they are strong. Use letters, capital letters, a number, two words together, something that would make it very hard to get, so that someone you know can’t guess it.”

If anyone believes their information has been stolen, the Baylor ITS help desk can help. She also said to immediately change the password of the compromised account and call the ITS help desk.

For instructions on how to change a Baylor password, go to www.Baylor.edu/bearid or contact the ITS help desk at 254-710-4357.