Public directory information makes students more susceptible to potential scammers

Mikaela Cannizzo

Personal information available through the University’s online directory makes UT students prime targets for scam artists, according to UTPD police officers. 

UTPD officer William Pieper said a recent scam affecting students begins with a fraudulent call from a phone number that appears to be from law enforcement. After convincing the student he or she owes money to the government, the scammer directs the student to purchase a prepaid credit card and give the scammer the card information.

“We’ve seen [the scam] now for more than a year, and with tax season coming, we suspect more and more of these calls will be sent to students,” Pieper said. “Because everything’s done over the phone, the callers can be anywhere worldwide.”

Pieper said easily accessible information in the UT directory, which includes student emails, phone numbers and home addresses, has provided scammers with necessary tools to deceive students. To prevent this from occurring, Pieper recommends students take advantage of the opt-out policy and restrict their available information. 

“If students go online and restrict that information, the scammers won’t have access and they should never receive the phone calls,” Pieper said.

In an attempt to further eliminate scams and address student safety concerns, Sergio Cavazos, policy director for the Senate of College Councils, said the Senate passed a resolution in October supporting an opt-in, as opposed to opt-out, policy for the directory.

Cavazos, a government junior, said the opt-in option will be similar to the current opt-out one, but will allow students to decide what information they want to publicize prior to it being published in the directory.

“We decided that we wanted to take a proactive approach, especially with all the concerns about campus safety that have come up within the past school year,” Cavazos said. “This will ensure that students don’t have that sensitive information easily accessible to the public.”

Cavazos said the resolution is currently in the planning stages, but hopes to have the opt-in policy implemented by the beginning of next school year.

While Pieper said not all students targeted by the scam proceed with the caller and end up getting their money swindled, every student who receives a call should file a police report since more information allows UTPD to better track and identify the suspects. 

Electrical engineering sophomore Hannah Peeler said she recently dealt with this scam when a man called her and told her she needed to pay a certain amount of money to avoid being arrested. After walking to the bank and withdrawing $980, she was directed to transfer the funds at Speedy Cash while staying on the phone with him the whole time.

After arriving at Speedy Cash, Peeler said employees informed her of the scam after asking her questions about why she was visibly upset. Peeler then hung up the phone without providing any of the money or information the caller was after, and later reported the incident to the Austin Police Department.

“I’ve been called before and people have asked for my social security number or my credit card information, and those are obviously scams,” Peeler said. “But this time, there was just a fear that gripped me and I just went along with it until I went to the Speedy Cash.”