The University of Maine at Farmington is investigating a hoax email sent out to students claiming President Kathryn Foster had died of a stroke.
The email was forged, not sent from a hacked account.
Campus police and technology services are investigating the hoax, April Mulherin, spokeswoman for the university, said Wednesday. She said Brock Caton, the school’s director of public safety, is discussing the matter with the district attorney.
Not only did the email, meant to look as though it were from Associate Provost Robert L. Lively Jr., say Foster died, but it also linked to a pornography site.
The hoax was distributed Monday through a campus email list and said it was from Lively, saying he was interim president.
“She will be sorely missed by her students, her colleagues and the entire UMF community,” the email read.
Embedded in the email was a link that told readers it connected to more information and grief counseling services, but it was actually a link to a pornography site.
The university responded within half an hour, sending its own email telling students the initial one was a hoax.
In a brief statement Wednesday, university officials said school officials “quickly determined the message was false, communicated this to the campus and are actively investigating the incident.”
UMF Senior Steven Langlin said there hasn’t been a strong reaction on campus to the email. However, Langlin said he initially thought the email was true and from Lively.
“That’s the same tone that he uses when he sends out emails,” he said.
The university’s follow-up email was from Daniel P. Gunn, interim provost, and F. Celeste Branham, vice president for Student and Community Services.
They said that Foster had been at the Board of Trustees meeting in Machias all day.
“Meanwhile, please be assured that this email is false and malicious,” the email stated. “Please do not click on the link in the email. It will take you to a porn site.”
Later, Foster issued a statement saying the person who sent the email acted with “exceptional disregard for our community” and said the university would look into who the sender was.
“In the meantime, I write to tell you that I am fine, though deeply saddened that our community has been subjected to this fraud,” she said.
Tuesday morning, the Information and Technology Services department sent a follow-up email stating the university’s technology systems were not compromised and no accounts were hacked.
“In fact, our systems today rely on more complex passwords, greater encryption and deeper levels of control than ever before,” said Fred Brittain, executive director of Information Technology Services.
Brittain said email “was a simple forgery” and was similar to other spam email pretending to be online pharmacies or family and friends in need of cash.
He said “In IT we are working on two fronts. The first is an active investigation with law enforcement to determine who was behind the forgery. The second is we have found a way prevent even forged messages from reaching the student email list.”
He said students should remember that email should be treated with caution if it appears suspicious, and the IT department can be consulted if some email appears in need of more scrutiny.
“Whether the message appears to come from your bank, your favorite Nigerian prince, or even your best friend, if the content doesn’t seem above board, don’t take it at face value,” he wrote.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]