Phishing scams don’t generally deserve write-ups, but the Wellgates Scholar Program is a new scam that avoids a lot of the common red flags. Since Google doesn’t turn up much about it yet, figured I’d contribute a warning.
The e-mail for this scam claims that one of your peers nominated you; if you checkout their website, you get an incredibly generic page with an application form. They’re not (obviously) trying to collect money, but they are asking for personal information, likely so they can sell it to other scammers. My “invitation” was sent to my university e-mail account, which is publicly available and easy to spam using brute-force techniques (the common <last name><first initial>@<university name>.edu format). The message specifically asks for the names and e-mail addresses of three of my peers, so they’re clearly trying to make this thing go viral.
Why is this so plainly a scam? Checkout what’s missing from their webpage:
- List of previous winners and their accomplishments
- List of industry/academic sponsors
- Board of Trustees (or the names of anyone in charge)
Real scholarships don’t omit these details, but the site looks clean and is generally free of the grammatical mistakes we often use to red-flag scam attempts.
Most damningly, however, the link from the e-mail includes a unique identifier, allowing them to know which addressees they’ve spammed are active. You usually can’t see this without hovering over the link or copying/pasting it to your browser, but it’s there. Don’t fall for it.
Let’s start this off by admitting a dark secret: my spelling is atrocious. As an example, I initially typed that sentence as, “Let’s start this off by admiting a dark secret: my spelling is attrocious.“ Built-in spell checking serves as a constant face-saver, but repeatedly finishing a sentence, switching from keyboard to mouse, right-clicking on the freshly-underlined words, and choosing what is nearly always the top choice from the built-in dictionary gets old. The fact that the computer’s first suggestion is almost always exactly what I tried to type makes me wonder: why can’t the machine automatically correct misspellings? Spell-checkers already rank the possible solutions, so it seems logical that if the delta of the ranking values between the top two choices is sufficiently large, it would be pretty safe to automatically make the replacement. If the action was accompanied by some sort of animation or color change (like the highlighting Mac OS X’s Preview performs when searching text in PDF files), the user would be aware the change had been made and could quickly evaluate whether it was correct. If it is, no need to switch over to the mouse and lose your train of thought; you can keep merrily typing away. If the correction was wrong, the highlight should remain for a while so that the user can finish typing, then come back to fix any mistaken spelling corrections.
Combining this technique with a machine learning system to detect patterns in a particular user’s misspellings (including the actual word they wanted) you could quickly end up with a highly-accurate spellcorrecter tailored to the end user. This brings the idea into my area of research, since the result would be a machine-learned program that could hold significant time-saving value to users. I’ll have to take a closer look at this at some point soon. In the meantime, I’m just frustrated that such a system doesn’t already exist.
So for the past week I’ve been meaning to write up a description of the general awesomeness that was IUI ’09, but with end-of-term craziness in full force, it’s going to have to wait. Suffice to say it was a fabulous week full of wonderful people and some fascinating research. Photos are slowly making their way from my notebook to Flickr, and once the VLHCC ’09 submission deadline passes, the process should speed up.
Speaking of, the past week has flown by as we prepare our paper, and I’m certain the next two will be similar. Today and tomorrow I’ve eight transcripts to code, plus an abstract to write and a clever title to generate. Feeling pretty good about it all at this particular moment, though; met up with Andrea at a funky new coffee shop (Vibe) downtown this morning, and ran into her friend Lisa as well. Now I’m exporting our final transcript video from the lab, then heading home to throw open some windows, put on a kettle, and code until I can code no more (and maybe a bit past that, we’ll see). The past few evenings have ended with mini-marathons of Series Three Doctor Who, and I’m looking forward to finishing that off late tonight.