Unfortunately, the international community is often targeted for internet and phone scams. Every year, students or scholars report being scammed and sometimes they lose large amounts of money.
OISS has created a video about avoiding common scams and listed several examples below.
If you ever have a feeling something might be a scam, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We are happy to help you determine what is and is not a scam.
The National Cybersecurity Alliance has extensive resources available online as well.
SCAM: A phone call or email that says you owe taxes or fees to the I.R.S. or any other government/immigration agency.
Any federal agency will contact you BY STANDARD MAIL, not phone or email. If you receive a written notice and you are unsure if it is valid, you may bring it to OISS or to A.S. Legal for our opinion. If you receive a call or email purporting to be from a "government office" (such as Social Security or Immigration) HANG UP. Do NOT confirm or provide ANY information (such as your full name, address, or social security number). Do NOT be pressured. A legitimate request from a government agency will come by a letter in the mail.
These scam callers are experts at making you feel pressured and at risk if you do not "cooperate." They use this fear to gather information.
DO NOT give confidential information such as your address or social security number to anyone that is claiming to be part of the I.R.S. or other government agency. These scammers can sound very threatening, but they have no authority. More about this scam.
UCPD reminds the campus community of the following safety tips:
- If you start to feel concerns about a person, phone call or message, trust your instincts and try to remove yourself as quickly as possible from the potential threat, even if it feels awkward to do so.
- Do not let anyone make you feel obligated to provide your Social Security number, passport number, bank or credit card number, or other sensitive information. This also goes for sending money or making a bank transfer.
- Do not hesitate to contact UCPD to report any concerning persons, messages, or activities.
- If you are in fear for your safety or the safety of others, call 911 immediately
SCAM: You receive a call from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Response Center (SRC)
SEVP is reminding students to beware of a scam involving individuals using the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Response Center (SRC) phone numbers (703-603-3400 and 800-892-4829) and claiming to be SRC representatives. More information is available at the following resources:
- Study in the States Blog post
- Advisory on Study in the States
- Handout from the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility
- 06/02/2021 SEVP Broadcast Message
SCAM: You receive a call from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is issuing this fraud alert to warn folks of reports that the DHS OIG Hotline telephone number has been used recently as part of a telephone spoofing scam targeting individuals throughout the country.
The perpetrators of the scam represent themselves as employees with “U.S. Immigration” and can alter caller ID systems to make it appear that the call is coming from the DHS OIG Hotline telephone number (1-800-323-8603). The scammers demand to obtain or verify personally identifiable information from their victims through various tactics, including by telling individuals that they are the victims of identity theft. Many of the scammers reportedly have pronounced accents.
DHS OIG takes this matter very seriously. While they investigate the situation, they would like to remind the public that DHS OIG never uses its Hotline number to make outgoing calls — the phone line is only used to receive information from the public. Individuals should not answer calls purporting to be from 1-800-323-8603, and should never provide personal information during calls purporting to be from the DHS OIG Hotline. It continues to be perfectly safe to use the DHS OIG Hotline to report fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement within DHS components or programs.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of this telephone spoofing scam is urged to call the Hotline or file a complaint online via the DHS OIG website www.oig.dhs.gov. You may also contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint and/or report identity theft.
SCAM: You receive a call from a Consular or Embassy official stating that you are involved in criminal behavior and you must pay money to make it go away
You will never be contacted via phone by a consular or embassy official regarding your immigration status or visa. Government officials will NEVER request money from you over the phone. If you receive a phone call from someone stating they with any government agency (consulate, embassy, USCIS, Department of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection etc) and are seeking money, hang up immediately and contact OISS for assistance. Do not provide money to anyone who you do not know or trust. Always seek help from OISS if you are unsure about who is contacting you or for what purpose. You can find examples of scams here.
SCAM: A long-distance "friend" convinces you to send very, very private pictures of yourself. Then they threaten to post the pictures online to your friends or parents unless you pay them a fee.
Once private photos of you have been released to the Internet, there is little anyone can do to prevent them from being shared with others. This can become a very embarrassing situation. The best way to avoid this is do not send private pictures. Once someone has your photos, they may misuse them without respect for your privacy.
More information about "romance scams" is available on the National Cybersecurity Alliance website.
SCAM: Exchanging money is ALWAYS a scam!
Sometimes internet criminals will begin by slowly building your trust. For example, you may buy items and receive them without a problem. Once it seems you have a trusted relationship, you may be asked to transfer money for currency exchange. You might successfully transfer a small amount before the criminal has tricked you into sending a large amount. DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN INTERNET MONEY EXCHANGE! It is always eventually a trap.
USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has compiled a list of common scams here, including scams targeting international students.
Here are some other scams identified by Craigslist. These involve transactions such as renting an apartment or buying a used car, that may begin as online transactions.
1. Someone claims your transaction is guaranteed, that a buyer/seller is officially certified, OR that a third party of any kind will handle or provide protection for a payment:
- These claims are fraudulent, as transactions are between users only.
- The scammer will often send an official looking (but fake) email that appears to come from craigslist or another third party, offering a guarantee, certifying a seller, or pretending to handle payments.
2. Distant person offers a genuine-looking (but fake) cashier's check:
- You receive an email or text (examples below) offering to buy your item, pay for your services in advance, or rent your apartment, sight unseen and without meeting you in person.
- A cashier's check is offered for your sale item as a deposit for an apartment or for your services.
- Value of cashier's check often far exceeds your item—scammer offers to "trust" you, and asks you to wire the balance via money transfer service.
- Banks will cash fake checks AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE WHEN THE CHECK FAILS TO CLEAR, sometimes including criminal prosecution.
- Scams often pretend to involve a 3rd party (shipping agent, business associate, etc.).
3. Someone requests wire service payment via Western Union or MoneyGram:
- Deal often seems too good to be true, price is too low, or rent is below market, etc.
- Scam "bait" items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, other high value items.
- Scammer may (falsely) claim a confirmation code from you is needed before he can withdraw your money.
- Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, UK, Netherlands—but could be anywhere.
- Rental may be local, but owner is "travelling" or "relocating" and needs you to wire money abroad.
- Scammer may pretend to be unable to speak by phone (scammers prefer to operate by text/email).
4. Distant person offers to send you a cashier's check or money order and then have you wire money:
- This is ALWAYS a scam in our experience—the cashier's check is FAKE.
- Sometimes accompanies an offer of merchandise, sometimes not.
- Scammer often asks for your name, address, etc. for printing on the fake check.
- Deal often seems too good to be true.
5. Distant seller suggests use of an online escrow service:
- Most online escrow sites are FRAUDULENT and operated by scammers.
- For more info, do a google search on "fake escrow" or "escrow fraud."
6. Distant seller asks for a partial payment upfront, after which they will ship goods:
- He says he trusts you with the partial payment.
- He may say he has already shipped the goods.
- Deal often sounds too good to be true.
7. Foreign company offers you a job receiving payments from customers, then wiring funds:
- Foreign company may claim it is unable to receive payments from its customers directly.
- You are typically offered a percentage of payments received.
- This kind of "position" may be posted as a job, or offered to you via email.