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So after claiming for years that I would never be stupid enough to fall for a scam email (I get emails in broken English from fake peer-reviewed journals wanting to publish for a fee all the time), I think I've finally been had. I got an email tonight from someone claiming to be from a research institution/funding organization that does in fact exist and is legitimate. He told me that my name had been nominated as an applicant for a study abroad program in a location that does in fact make sense for my research interests. He asked me for some basic information such as research interests/goals for study abroad etc. I thought that since the organization is actually legit and makes sense given my research, that maybe my advisor nominated me so I assumed the email was legitimate. I answered his questions, the only one of any substance being about my research interests, in which I basically summarized my proposed dissertation in a paragraph. I also asked him for the name of the person who nominated me. 

After replying at 10 pm EST (I found it odd in the first place that I got a professional email from someone claiming to be in the UK at 8:50 EST, which would be 1:50 am UK time), I get an email back an hour later saying that the chair of the research council was enthusiastic about my answers and promoted me to a finalist. That's when I knew something was up. By the time I got to the questions, I was sure it was a full blow scam. These questions asked me about my appreciation for fine arts; to rank my five favorite animals; my opinion of rabbit hunting; to rank my favorite pudding flavors etc. A complete joke. When I clicked on the name of the sender, he was using a gmail address - not one affiliated with the research organization, which lets me know he is posing as someone from there. He did not reply to my question of who nominated me, which I now realize is because no one did because the whole thing is fake. I plan on calling/emailing the actual organization tomorrow to let them know that a scammer is posing as one of their recruiters. 

Ordinarily, I would chalk the whole thing up to a pathetic scam, but I'm worried now that I supplied a paragraph basically laying out my entire dissertation topic idea. Of course, one would have to actually do the research to write anything substantive about my topic (since I have not even passed my dissertation proposal yet, my ideas are still in the preliminary "idea" stage - no results yet, though I speculated on some of the big claims my project would make). Do I have anything to be worried about?  

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I think you will be fine, but it might be a good idea to talk to your advisor about this just to get more perspective. It is a little embarrassing, but trust me, many grad students (including me) have admitted more embarrassing mistakes before!

Normally these scammers are in the business of stealing your money, not your research ideas. I am guessing that if you answered the next set of questions, they will probably ask for payment for the application or for the program itself. So I wouldn't worry too much. In the worst case scenario, they might use your text to either scam other people (list your abstract as a fake attendee to their future fake events) or sell it to unscrupulous people looking for academic text. But this is pretty unlikely as this implies they are able to distinguish good vs. bad academic text and if they could, it's unlikely they would be running this sort of scam.

So I wouldn't really worry about it. Also a good idea to talk to your advisor in the future before submitting things like this. Even if it is a legitimate thing, I generally would want to discuss how much uncompleted work to reveal in an abstract with my advisor!

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Ok so just as I was about to call the organization to report that a scammer was posing as one of their recruiters, I find out that it was my brother playing a practical joke on me by creating a fake email address. So the good news is my research topic has not been compromised, but...I told him he is dead to me. :-P

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1 hour ago, ThousandsHardships said:

Hahaha! I agree with @TakeruK. Time for a revenge prank!!

On a side note, that explains why said scammer knew what location/organization would make sense for your research interests. :lol:

Yes, and one of his questions had to do with a particular hobby/fine arts activity that he knows I've done since I was 5 (for the record, it's ballet...not rabbit hunting). 

Oh it is so on. 

Btw, my brother finds it hilarious that he caused me enough consternation that I complained to an online forum. :angry::D

Edited by serenade
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@serenade I'm really happy it was just a prank! 

I've never been research-scammed (I was almost scammed twice on the phone, one today!). I wanted to take this opportunity to let everybody know that I have received what seems to be e-mails from my school with whatever scam rhetoric (click here to update your contact info, your folder is full, etc). We have been always told to do what you did, to look at the e-mail address. 

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