IT Services | IT safety, security and data protection | Fraudulent Emails (Phishing)

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Fraudulent Emails (Phishing)

Sadly the simplest way for fraudsters to obtain personal information is to simply pose as a trusted organisation, and ask for it. If you ask enough people a few will respond – and it is very easy when emailing to ask a lot of people very quickly, at zero cost.

On a daily basis, emails are received by college staff and students asking them to visit third party (fraudulent) sites and enter their usernames and passwords.

Examples of emails received by Birkbeck staff and students include those purporting to come from IT Services regarding mail quotas being exceeded, or from the Registry offering cash bursaries – in both cases the objective of the fraudster is to take the recipient to a fraudulent website, often made to look like a Birkbeck site, and ask them to provide username, password and other information.

We are continually being sent fraudulent email messages trying to dupe recipients into handing over personal information including username and password details. While antivirus and antispam measures at the perimeter of the College stop a large proportion of unwanted email sent to the College, some spam does get through, and some of this is fraudulent. There are some simple steps to assist in identifying whether you should be suspicious of a message purporting to come from a Birkbeck address. The same techniques should also be used when considering all messages. If the message purports to come from a Birkbeck address:

Identifying whether a message received from Birkbeck is genuine

There are a number of ‘tell-tale signs’ in fraudulent messages including the following:

  1. Does the message ask for your username and password details or financial details? If so, it is likely to be fraudulent.
  2. Is the message oddly timed or out of context?
  3. Is the message anonymous? Any legitimate message should have a person's name and contact details.
  4. Does the message contain terms or language that you do not associate with Birkbeck? If so, be suspicious.
  5. Does the message demand an urgent response?
  6. If you click on "reply", is the reply-to address a Birkbeck one? Or if the message contains embedded web links, are these on Birkbeck servers (float over the link without clicking on it to see what web address is associated with the link). See also the note on websites below.
  7. (admittedly less simple) Check the email headers to see where the message originated.

Messages from other senders

You should also be suspicious of messages coming from social networks, service providers, web retailers etc:

  1. Is the message offering something that is too good to be true?
  2. Is it requesting personal or financial information?
  3. Are you expecting the message?
  4. Are there immediate deadlines, and/or has the message been sent at a time when you would find it difficult to confirm veracity.

A word on websites

Some legitimate messages from Birkbeck staff may contain links to external websites, which are used for various services. A list of these is available, but if in doubt, please check with the ITS Service Desk (

What to do if you receive phishing emails

Fraudulent messages are becoming much cleverer, and are frequently now targeted at organisations or individuals, so it is important to be vigilant, and if in doubt, please contact the ITS Service Desk ().

What to do if you think you've been a victim of Phishing

Guidance on phishing and other cyber crime is available from Action Fraud. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime where you should report fraud if you have been scammed, defrauded or experienced cyber crime.