The Office of Information Security has observed a trend where criminals are sending fraudulent invoices to unsuspecting victims in hopes that they will be paid without the recipient noting that they are part of a scam. The tricky part of this particular scam is that the invoices are actually generated by payment handlers like PayPal. Instead of creating a fraudulent invoice from scratch, these criminals generate fraudulent charges, often mimicking known and reputable entities, then use those charges to trigger a payment service like PayPal to notify the recipient that a payment is due. This means that these invoices can be delivered via email and trigger invoice notifications in other systems like PayPal’s own apps.
These scammers are attempting to target people who process a lot of invoices in hopes they will approve them before taking a closer look. To avoid this scam, slow down and be sure every invoice is associated with a known charge for a product or service. If you have any reason to be skeptical of the authenticity of an invoice, please reach out to the purported billing organization using a known and reliable contact method. Please don’t ever engage with the sender using any contact information or instructions contained in these invoices or emails.
Avoid this scam and other phishing scams by following our ten phishing safety tips and related guidance below.
10 Phishing Safety Tips
- Don’t click. Instead of clicking on any link in a suspicious email, type in the URL, or do a search on wustl.edu for the relevant department or page. Even if a website and/or URL in an email looks real, criminals can mask its true destination.
- Be skeptical of urgent requests. Phishing messages often make urgent requests or demands. When you detect a tone of urgency, slow down and verify the authenticity of the sender and the request by using official channels, rather than the information provided by the sender.
- Watch out for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Phishing messages are often poorly written. Common hallmarks of phishing are incorrect spelling, improper punctuation, and poor grammar. If you receive an email with these problems, it may be a phishing attempt. Double-check the email address of the sender, don’t follow any links and verify the authenticity of the request using official channels.
- Keep your information private. Never give out your passwords, credit card information, Social Security number, or other private information through email.
- Pick up the phone. If you have any reason to think that a department or organization really needs to hear from you, call them to verify any request for personal or sensitive information. Emails that say “urgent!”, use pressure tactics or prey on fear are especially suspect. Do an online search for a contact phone number or use the contact number published in the WUSTL directory.
- Use secure websites and pay attention to security prompts. Always check if you are on a secure website before giving out private information. You can determine whether a website is secure by looking for the “https:” rather than just “http:” in the Web address bar or for the small lock icon in the Internet browser. If your browser cannot validate the authenticity of the website’s security certificate, you will be prompted. This is frequently a telltale sign of fraud, and it would be a good time to pick up the phone or report a suspicious message.
- Keep track of your data. Regularly log onto your online accounts and make sure that all your transactions are legitimate.
- Reset any account passwords that may have been compromised.
- Know what’s happening. Visit the Office of Information Security Alerts page often and follow us on Twitter to get the latest WashU Information Security Alerts.
- Report it. If you are a victim of an email scam, report it to our office by using the Phish Alert Button (PAB). When you report a phishing attack, we will investigate it and if necessary, remove other instances of the attack from our systems. Reporting the attack will help protect others and our institution.