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MIT Police, IS&T caution community on phone scam

At least 30 MIT affiliates have received fraudulent calls claiming to be from law enforcement agencies.

MIT Police and Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) are urging vigilance after receiving reports that dozens of members of the MIT community have been contacted this week as part of a phone scam.

In many cases, the MIT affiliates were contacted on their cellphones. The calls appear, to the recipients, to originate from the phone numbers of local police departments, but are actually made by scammers using a technique known as “caller ID spoofing.”

The caller generally presents himself or herself as a law enforcement officer — most often, in the MIT-targeted scam, as an officer with the Lexington Police Department or at the Massachusetts State Police barracks in Middleboro. The caller then attempts to intimidate the recipient of the call, often by claiming that the recipient owes back taxes and that there is a warrant for his or her arrest, and then demands money.

At least 30 members of the MIT community have reported receiving calls of this type. However, this particular scam does not appear to be unique to MIT: Employees of IS&T have queried peers around the country, and have identified at least two other institutions whose employees are currently the targets of similar scams.

IS&T is continuing to investigate how the scammers obtained names and contact information for members of the MIT community, and suspects that it was gathered through a directory harvest attack against the Institute’s online directory.

The MIT Police advise that individuals who receive calls similar to those described above should report the incident to the police in the jurisdiction where the calls are received. Those who received such calls while on campus should notify the MIT Police at 617-258-8477 (617-258-TIPS). Those who have received such calls while on campus, and who have subsequently sent money in response, should file a report with the MIT Police by calling 617-253-1212.

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