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Regular version of the site

Protect Yourself from Scammers Targeting HSE University

A university employee shares her story


Scammers continue to target staff and students of HSE University. Unknown parties create fake social media and instant messenger accounts in the name of senior HSE staff and attempt to contact university employees.

HSE University Life has previously reported on attempts to deceive university employees and how university staff and students can combat fraud.

Anna Fam, Associate Professor at the School of Psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, spoke to HSE University Life about her own encounter with scammers.

Anna K. Fam

Associate Professor, School of Psychology at the HSE University Faculty of Social Sciences

— On January 30, during morning classes, I got a call from someone on Telegram (the caller was using the name and photo of HSE University Rector Nikita Anisimov). I was teaching, so I couldn’t answer the call.

During the break between classes, I noticed that I had an audio message supposedly from Nikita Anisimov. It was several seconds long, and the caller warned me that I needed to contact ‘Oleg Churilov’ from the Ministry of Education. He did not explain why. I had never spoken to the rector directly before.

I also saw a missed call on my phone from this Oleg Churilov (also on Telegram).

I sent 'Nikita Anisimov' a text message explaining that I had classes and that I would be able to contact Oleg Churilov later. I sent a similar message to Churilov, who replied, ‘I’ll be waiting.’

Then, after class, I called Churilov on Telegram. The call was declined, but I was immediately called back by someone who introduced themselves by that name (and with a photo). As far as I understand, scammers often use this tactic. It is impossible to get through to them directly—they hang up immediately and call back themselves.

At that point, I still hadn’t realised that this was a scam. I wanted to get to the bottom of the situation and understand why I was getting calls from the Ministry of Education.

The conversation with 'Churilov' lasted about five minutes. He spoke to me as though I should have already known what the conversation was about, talking about ‘the committee’, ‘the matter’, ‘the meeting’, etc. I replied that I was not aware of any of this and asked him to explain the context of his message.

He started talking about a data leak affecting HSE University employees, explaining that the HR department was responsible. He said that my personal data and that of many of my colleagues was in a database and was at risk. He asked me to make a note of the names of two people from the security services who were members of the committee investigating this crime (he claimed to lead this committee) so that I would not be surprised when they contacted me later. But, according to him, they would not contact me if everything was clear from the documents and if my personal comments were not required.

About five minutes later, someone by the name of Pavel Sivash started writing to me then calling me (also on Telegram, but he did not have a profile picture). The name matched one of those previously mentioned by ‘Churilov’.

The conversation was strange and unpleasant. The thought that these people could be scammers had not even crossed my mind, but I was adamant about not providing any additional personal information, especially as I was still not entirely sure why these people had contacted me. By then, I had managed to tell some of my colleagues in an internal chat about the call from Nikita Anisimov and the person from the Ministry of Education. My colleagues didn’t like it either, and they warned me about scammers targeting HSE University employees (unfortunately, I did not draw a connection between these calls from the ‘security services’ and previous cases of fraud).

‘Pavel Sivash’ immediately wanted to know whether there was anyone near me who could hear our conversation (I believe this too is quite a common practice among scammers). He asked if I had time to talk. He then started giving me instructions on how to communicate with scammers (don’t give them any personal information, say that you will speak only under official summons, and end the call). When I asked how I could be sure that he was who he said he was, he responded quite sharply and aggressively, immediately directed me to the hotline of the security services (he gave me a link), and asked me to check the number he was calling from against that of the hotline ‘so we can resolve this matter once and for all and will not have to return to it.’ He also asked whether I had opened the link using a work computer, explaining that it is a requirement of the security services to use only personal devices during calls.

After that, he asked me whether I had transferred large sums of money to anyone in the last two years, whether I had bought an apartment and so on, adding that my data had been compromised. I answered ‘no’ to everything.

He also asked about my opinion on Nikita Anisimov. When I asked how that was relevant to our conversation, he replied that Anisimov is the head of the organisation responsible for the data leak, and that he was obliged to ask about it. He also said that other HSE employees had answered the same question and had mixed opinions.

I refrained from answering. ‘Sivash’ then said that some other people would call me later (he provided their names), and again asked me to make a note of them. When I asked why they were going to call me and whether they could summon me somewhere if they needed me, he aggressively replied that the call format was chosen for my convenience, and that if I didn’t like it, then ‘they will talk to you another way.’ And then, if I recall, he hung up.

After that, I started receiving calls from ‘Nikita Anisimov’ again, but on the advice of some colleagues I did not answer. They told me plainly that the rector would not contact anyone personally from an unverified address, bypassing the university’s communication channels, and that these people must be scammers. I blocked all three numbers that the unknown calls came from, and took screenshots.

I'm sharing this information in the hope that it will help others avoid unpleasant experiences like this.

HSE University staff and students must always remain vigilant of scams. Carefully check any information you receive via communication channels that you have not used before. If you have encountered any cases of fraud, please share your story with HSE University Life at community@hse.ru.

February 09