The University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) sent out an advisory Sept. 18 warning university employees to watch out for phone calls from scammers posing as employees from printer and utility companies like Canon and Florida Power & Light.
Scammers have been contacting multiple departments claiming to be contracted employees requesting sensitive information or payment for utilities. They may do so by pretending to provide maintenance services or by threatening to cut off utility service without immediate payment – even when there is no payment due.
“It’s not something that was widespread,” UMPD Crime Prevention Specialist John Gulla said. “We had more than one or two [cases] in a recent span of time. There’s been no actual case of loss to my knowledge, just attempts.”
According to the advisory published on the university faculty news site, e-Veritas, “University utility service providers do not operate in this manner.” They would never threaten to shut off service or ask for sensitive information like computer IP addresses under the pressure of a quick phone call.
Gulla reemphasized this idea, stating that a legitimate contracted employee would give you a chance to “hold or call back” if you needed to consult with a supervisor or delay for any reason.
Because of its potential to affect all university employees, including working students, the UMPD included some student employees in its advisories as an added preventative step.
“[The scam] could potentially affect students who are employees,” Gulla explained of the decision to inform students, adding that they may be “taken advantage of because they’re trying to do the right thing.”
While the university may be the latest target of the printer or utility scam, it is by no means alone. In fact, this particular con and ones like it have affected colleges and other large groups for years.
Just last year, Florida State University released a bulletin explaining the resurgence of a popular scam known as the “toner phoner” where, just like in Miami’s scam, individuals would call the school asking about certain departments’ copiers and printers. Scammers would then use the information they gathered to persuade unwitting employees to spend exorbitant amounts on toner they really didn’t need.
If necessary, Gulla said, UMPD would use its investigative powers to report and track down a scam artist, although that can be hard to do. Rather, UMPD (along with the university’s Managed Print Services and IT departments) hopes to prevent recent scam activity from ever escalating to that point.
Gulla wants students and faculty to know that the recent scam advisory shouldn’t scare them. Rather, it should equip them with the tools they need to respond to the possibility of this con and others like it.
“We’re not trying to make people afraid,” Gulla said. “If something is potentially fishy at all, err on the side of caution. That same advice would apply to students and any individuals.”
Common scams, such as urgent pleas for money from false family members, can (and do) occur outside of the university setting, so students should constantly be aware of possible scams as they use the internet and other technologies.
University employees should never give out equipment information (such as IP addresses and serial numbers) without having made the service call themselves. Faculty should report such solicitations to Managed Print Services and, if the calls continue, to UMPD.