UTPD: Scammers use UT directory to target students

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Providing unrestricted public access to personal information on the UT Directory could make students susceptible to phone scammers, according to UTPD Officer William Pieper.

In recent cases, phone scammers have cloned the phone numbers of various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to intimidate victims into paying up to one thousand dollars in cash cards over the phone, Pieper said. Personal information found in the UT Directory has aided in this process, he said.

“[Students] might be more susceptible to this trend because [the UT Directory] tells people if you are a student or a faculty or staff member and if its unrestricted, it has your phone number on it as well," Pieper said. “In some of the accounts I read, the scammer would actually say, ‘You’re a student majoring in this, in this university, your address is this, your parents’ address is this. I know this because I have already investigated you as a law enforcement officer.’”

The UT Directory lists the name, EID, home phone number, permanent address, local address, major, college, classification, email address, and student worker positions for all students, faculty and staff by default. Currently, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), those who do not want this information listed must restrict their information via UT Direct. 

Senate Resolution 1504, if passed by Senate of College Councils, will urge the UT administration to make students opt-in to list their permanent and local addresses on the directory, according to Rachel Osterloh, president of the organization. 

“What we are working on is a piece of legislation that will allow physical addresses on the UT directory to be opt-in instead of opt-out,” Osterloh said. “Most students aren’t even aware that these addresses are listed in the UT directory.”

The resolution recognizes the risk associated with making addresses available to the public.

“Information like an address is very personal and can be unsafe if publicly available in certain cases related to public safety,” the resolution reads.  

Biology senior Katia Hougaard said she would prefer participation in the UT directory to be opt-in to make students aware of how public their information has become.

Pieper said UTPD encourages students and faculty to restrict the data they choose to make available on the directory.

“We would prefer for people to have to opt-in to it than out of it, Pieper said. “I would restrict addresses. If you want someone to send you presents or letters you can give them your address yourself.”