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Faculty Member Bill Rials Discusses Social Engineering

A student working on lines of code at a computer at Tulane SoPA in New Orleans, LA

Bill Rials, Ph.D., an Information Technology (IT) Adjunct Professor for the Tulane School of Professional Advancement, explains social engineering and its dangerous scam practices. He warns that the elderly community is especially at risk, and he identifies warning signs and protection tips from social engineering attacks. Dr. Rials is an Applied Computing Systems & Technology program faculty member, and he has served as an IT leader for both local and state government.

What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is the art of deceiving people into exposing confidential information with the intent for the information to be used for fraudulent purposes. Criminals seek a variety of information such as social security numbers, passwords, bank account information, or access to your computer and files.

Am I a Target?

Social engineering attacks are becoming increasingly more common. Hackers have developed a multitude of methods to trick individuals into divulging confidential information. One group that is continuously affected is the elderly population. As the “Greatest Generation,” our elderly community members and loved ones grew up trusting individuals with a simple handshake. While this generation constitutes only 12% of the world population, they are a high target for social engineers resulting in 30% of attacks. By spreading awareness of social engineering and its primary targets, Tulane University emphasizes the importance of protecting the elderly community in New Orleans.

How Can I Detect a Scam?

Criminals take a variety of paths in an attempt to retrieve confidential information. They may pretend to be government employees, bank or credit card representatives, health care providers, or even friends. Here are some signs of a scam:

  • You are pressured to act immediately. Legitimate businesses do not use high-pressure tactics.
  • They request confidential information such as social security numbers, passwords, bank account information, or credit card numbers.
  • If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Phone calls: If you don’t know the company or person, do not conduct business with them. Only interact with trusted sources. If the caller will not politely end the conversation, it is okay to hang up. If you are contacted by a company that you trust such as your bank or health care provider, it is best to hang up and call a verified number that can be found on the company’s official website. As mentioned, a social engineer may disguise themselves as a representative from your credit card company. In this instance, hang up and call the number on the back of your credit card.

Email, text, and voice messages: When in doubt, don’t respond. If it looks suspicious—delete the message. It is common for your friends and family’s accounts to be spoofed without them knowing. Ask yourself, “Is this an ordinary message?” If the answer is no, delete the message. If you are unsure, call them and confirm the email was indeed intended for you. Do not click any links in the message, even if it looks trustworthy.

What Do I Do If I’m a Victim of Social Engineering?

Institute a credit freeze to prevent social engineers from opening an account in your name. A credit freeze is merely an agreement made with the three main credit reporting bureaus that places a lock on accounts, stopping lenders and creditors from accessing your data. Once a credit freeze is in place, the criminal will no longer be allowed to open accounts with your name or social security number, as the bank will be unable to verify your credit score. According to Experian, a credit reporting agency, this is the safest way to protect yourself from credit theft. Most importantly, contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection or local law enforcement to report the crime.

Social engineering is one of today's many cybersecurity threats, and awareness is a crucial step towards protection. Learn more about the work of our Applied Computing Systems & Technology faculty and the real-world industry experience they bring to the Tulane School of Professional Advancement.

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