CALIFORNIA — An email announcing a human trafficking conference at a state-owned university in southwestern Pennsylvania is a hoax.
Officials at California University of Pennsylvania are not hosting the July event billed as the 2013 10th Annual International Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The University of Toledo is hosting a similarly named conference in September.
California University spokeswoman Christine Kindl said this is the third consecutive year a hoax email has been sent about a human trafficking conference at the school, which has hosted its own event called Shatter the Silence the past two years.
"It's definitely distressing that it goes to the credibility of the legitimate work that we do," Kindl said.
The newspaper brought the email, dated June 7, to the attention of the school. This year's email and the hoaxes from the past two years also said a follow-up conference will be held in the African nation of Senegal several days following the California University conference.
A computer security expert told the newspaper that the email appears to be a phishing scam that seeks personal information or money from those who respond.
Phishing scams are becoming more sophisticated by targeting specific audiences with emails that seem to be from legitimate organizations, said Timor Snoke of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institution.
"You have a group of people that is very sensitive to an underrepresented population that is in dire straits. Then you reference a second conference in an area where this might actively be a problem," Snoke said, referring to the mention of Senegal. "You're playing on their heartstrings."
Snoke said people can avoid being scammed by taking the time to independently looking up the organization's contact information to confirm the information in the email, instead of calling phone numbers or clicking on embedded links.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com