Soft phishing, and why anyone should know GoogleScholar

I still have a university e-mail address, for fiscal reasons. Hence, I still get what we call in German Initiativbewerbungen, not solicited applications for joining my working group (I never had one) from people in countries not as happy as Austria. And the one or other phishing mail.

If from some poor pal in the underdeveloped (scientifically) world, I nicely reply and give them feedback, usually how futile such an action is given the generally poor financing situation in my fields.

I also still get the usual phishing mails send around within the e-mail system of Vienna University telling me that my e-mail folder is full (which it isn't) and asking me to log-in to ensure the service is not ceased. Naturally not referring me to my employee account (the University of Vienna has a very nice system for employee services) but some made-up mask to just dump your log-in details.

Usually one gets a mail a couple of days later from the actual Datenverarbeitung-guys (the informatics department) warning the scientists not to do so.

Funny, how many highly educated people can't distinguish between fraud and genuine.

A bit outside the usual, I got this interesting soft-phishing mail using the I-search-for-a-position-initiative.

"Dr. Martin Kroll" 's mail to me. Thank you very much for your confidence indeed.

The typical warning signs (embedded link, mismatch between the sender's name and name in the sending email address) are missing. But obviously it's not genuine.

First, there is no ""; and institutional email addresses don't include (anymore these days) neutral lab designators like "lab3". In Tübingen, Stockholm and Vienna where I worked it was always just yourname@institutionURL. 

If you search for an URL and the first link you get is a bit fishy e-mail address line, then it's probably phishy.

Second, the only persons I know that use uppercase letters in English texts for non-names "University", "Professor", "Dean", are the toddler in the White House, the yellow press, and predatory journals, especially those from India.

Third, no real university has excess professor positions waiting for Initiativbewerbungen. Those that have to be filled are officially announced with all the contact details you need. And, at least in my fields, those with a chance to get it, have been informed in advance something will be coming up.

Last, "Dr. Martin Kroll" is a nice Austrian name; why would he address a fellow Austrian in English using wrong uppercase writing? We German-speaking people are usually very proud of our uppercase substantives and don't use them lightly when shifting to English. When I was stationed in Austria, we still addressed each other very formally: a Sehr geehrter Herr Dr. Dipl. geol. ... with kind regards, Ihr Dr. Mag. Martin Kroll would have been much less conspicuous.

How to quickly check out alleged scientists?

A tip I gave to my cousin after she showed me Discovery's ancient-megashark-has-survived "documentary" (Snopes). Whenever a TV shows, news outlets etc hosts, shows, or refers to a scientist there's a simple quick check-up.

Just type the name into GoogleScholar.

If nothing, or nothing in the alleged scientific area, pops up, it's not a scientist. For "Martin Kroll" you actually get some hits, papers authored by "M H Kroll", a patchy scientific record in medicine with papers in the 90s and early zeroes, unlikely the "Dr. Martin Kroll" now searching for contacts to fix his university professorship. For how it should look like, try "Guido Grimm" instead (note: I retired early, three years ago).


  1. Dear Mr. Grimm,
    I am glad I found this blog and musing about a Martin Kroll as I received an identical message to my university account today (Nov. 1, 2019) in Czech Republic (Brno University of Technology). Indeed, I was annoyed as well by the uppercase P in professor, but younger generation seems to think little of orthography. First, I actually looked for the name in my contacts, thinking somebody is trying to reach to the administration through a professor they think he knows them. Since I have not found the name, I tried Google and quickly came up with a few notes about phishing, including yours.
    What triggered my suspicion was the (lack of) logic in the letter. If a writer unknown to me was able to find my university address (I am a professor at an engineering department), why not just dig a bit further and find the HR and the responsible dean outright?
    GoogleScholar, as you suggest, is another good step to add to the sieve.

  2. Dear Petr, glad it helped.

    Also phishing has become more professional (or other sort of scam-mails, currently we get a lot Brexit-related ones), why it's good we can share such experiences.

    Thanks for your feedback,
    Cheers, Guido

  3. Had the same experience. Figured it was fake. Intrigued what they could be phishing for though! Can't figure it out...

    1. I pondered about this, too. It could be to collect addresses from people in the science administration that make calls by someone who has not really an idea about how recruiting etc. works at purely scientific-educative institutions. Maybe to spam them with "service offers"; offering science-PR services is an increasing market. I recently got a mail by a "non-profit" service who wanted to promote one of our papers by preparing an outline appealing to a general public to be published in their monthly outlet. Would only cost 10 min of my time (and some unspecified sum for non-specified services they would provide during the process).


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