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Marshall students shed light on importance of cyber security following Hermantown's "spoof" incident

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Hermantown Police Department is warning parents about an incident this week in which a young girl took a call from an unknown man asking her to meet him outside.

"Our whole lives are on our phones," said Sahen Rei, a senior at Duluth Marshall School. "When your entire life is in the palm of your hands, if somebody gained access to that information it can be really dangerous."

One group of students at Duluth Marshall, as part of CyberPatriots, is learning how to protect themselves on the internet.

"As you know technology has evolved considerably and students are using their phones, their tablets, their PC's, Mac's," said Anup Parajulie, a faculty member at Lake Superior College and CyberPatriots' coach. "They're on these gadgets all the time."

He said, "you have to be careful with your apps because some apps can have access to your data right?"

Easy accessibility like that can turn phone and computer users into victims.

One method is through "spoofing."

"It can be just masking your phone number to show a different number," said Hermantown Police Chief Jim Crace. "You can mask your voice to sound like a different person or a different gender."

Spoofing is as easy as one, two, three.

You can download an app quickly on your phone. You can pick which number you want to call, anybody in your contact list and which number you want to be. 

"They're kind of playing on your trust. That its a local number, it must be somebody you know," said an associate professor at UMD, Peter Peterson. 

On Tuesday, a young girl in Hermantown was victim to spoofing and received a suspicious call from a California number.

An unrecognizable male caller asked her to meet him outside and that her brother needed to get to hockey practice. The origin of the caller is still unknown.

"Technology isn't the safest thing right now so we really need to know what we're getting into," said Asmi Aryal, a seventh grader at Marshall. "So as a young generation if we just know how to protect ourselves a little better it's really helpful because anything can happen."

The Hermantown Police Department says spoofing is common when it comes to telemarketing.

"People in this area get spoofed whether they know it or not," said Chief Crace.

But, Tuesday's case is the first they've dealt with in regards to spoofing kids.   

When asked whether the girl was specifically targeted, police said, "we're unsure at this time," but they say it appeared the caller may know something about the family.

Essentially, police don't know if this was a completely random caller or a friend pulling a prank.

Chief Crace said, "with spoofing it's very hard. It's very hard to figure out where these calls originate from. There's subpoenas involved, sometimes there's search warrants involved and cell phone companies aren't real timely."

Going off that, police say it typically takes a week or two to get that data back to continue with the "spoofing" investigation.

So now, it's a better time than ever to be extra cautious because spoofing can happen to anyone.

"This is their future, this is what they need to know and their future should not be compromised because we don't have the knowledge among us," said Parajulie. "It's simple things that we can do to protect ourselves."

To avoid an incident like this in the future, the Hermantown Police Department suggests parents have a conversation with their children about safety and what to do if encountered by a stranger.

They also advise parents to have a plan set with their children in regards to who, when and where they will be picked up, and to stick with that plan. 

The police say, "when in doubt, children should be instructed to advise a known and trusted adult and not go anywhere other than a pre-established safe place."

If something like this happens to you, call 911 immediately. 

For additional tips to protect yourself from caller ID spoofing, click here. 

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