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Scam Safety

International students and scholars have unfortunately always been a frequent target for scams. It is important to educate yourself on the common scenarios and take steps to protect yourself. Review this page to learn about common scams and how to safeguard your personal information. This page is updated regularly.

NEW SCAM ALERT: ISSS has been alerted that students have been contacted by individuals claiming to be police officers or law enforcement (either from the U.S. or the student's home country), indicating that the student is suspected of illegal activity, and the asking students to pay money to avoid prosecution. This is a scam. Read more about law enforcement scams below.

What is a scam?

A scam is a dishonest attempt to obtain money, information, or something else of value. Scammers are people who will lie and misrepresent themselves as people with authority. Scammers often use intimidation to manipulate individuals into doing what they want.

Why should international students & scholars be vigilant about potential scams?

International students and scholars are often frequent targets for scams due to their supposed lack of understanding about how certain systems in the United States function. Additionally, scammers will often try to intimidate international students and scholars with empty threats of arrest or deportation. As such, it is important to understand what types of scams exist, common scenarios scammers will use, and what to do if you find yourself being targeted.

Where to look for scams

Scams can come in many forms. Scammers will often know the names and basic biographical information about their target, which can make them appear legitimate. Targets can be contacted via mail, email, phone, text message, Internet websites, or even in person.

What should you do if you receive a call?

  1. If you do not recognize the number or are not expectating a call (or a text message), do not answer. If it is important, they will you a message.
  2. If you do pick up the call and do not recognize the person, hang up the phone! Callers can be very persuasive and scary. Do not stay on the phone with them.
  3. Do not give any personal information out to anyone you do not know.
  4. Call the University of Illinois Police Department (217-333-1216) to report the fraud attempt.
  5. Check with ISSS if you are not sure if a call is a fraud or not.
  6. Warn your friends that this happened to you. You can help prevent this from happening to others.

Scam Types & What to Look Out For

Common types of scams include:

  • Immigration scams
  • Law enforcement scams
  • Love scams
  • Tax/IRS scams
  • Craigslist scams
  • Tuition scams
  • Shipping scams

Individuals will pretend to be legitimate government agencies and will threaten your immigration status unless they pay money. These types of scams typically occur via phone or text message.

Warning Signs

  • The caller becomes increasingly aggressive and threatening.
  • The caller demands immediate payment over the phone.
  • The caller wants to meet you somewhere with the money or wants you to wire transfer money into an account.
  • The caller threatens your immigration status due to not paying some tax or entry fee.
  • The caller asks about immigration documents and related financial information (recent example).
  • The caller or callers do not have American accents.
  • You receive multiple phone calls from different numbers about the same issue. The call may be sent from 911, “Unknown”, or even the official phone number of a government agency such as the FBI.
  • The caller will use a lot of official sounding language, but will threaten you with jail or deportation if you do not pay.
  • A website or email will ask for payment in exchange for issuing official government forms (which are free) or for a chance to win the “green card” lottery.

Recent Scam Using SEVP & HSI Phone Numbers

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has been made aware of a spoofing scam involving individuals using an SEVP Response Center (SRC) phone number (703-603-3400) or a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office phone number (757-441-6533) to target nonimmigrant students. Fraudulent callers are claiming to be SEVP representatives and asking students to provide their immigration information, such as their Alien Registration Number or Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” information, or face deportation.

SEVP encourages designated school officials to reach out to their students to make them aware of this scam. If you or one of your students encounter, or are a victim of this spoof call, you are encouraged to report the incident to the HSI tip line. If you are unsure about the validity of a call from an SEVP official, you can also reach out to your designated SEVP field representative or contact the SRC.  

Remember: SEVP officials will NEVER ask you to provide credit/debit card/gift card numbers, wire transfers, or bank routing numbers, or to make bitcoin deposits for any purpose. NEVER divulge personal or financial information to unknown callers.

Individuals will pretend to be legitimate police officers or law enforcement (either from the U.S. or the your home country) and will claim that you are implicated in legal activity and must pay money to avoid prosecution. These types of scams typically occur via phone or text message.

Warning Signs

  • The caller or texter claims your legal documents (passport, visa, etc.) are fraudulent or was implicated in illegal activity.
  • The caller or texter becomes increasingly aggressive and threatening.
  • The caller or texter demands immediate payment (may be via a banking app or gift cards).
  • The caller will use a lot of official sounding language, but will threaten you with jail or deportation if you do not pay.

Recent Scam Using Police Phone Numbers

ISSS has been made aware of a spoofing scam involving individuals using local law enforcement phone numbers. Remember: Legitimate law enforcement officials will NEVER ask you to provide credit/debit card/gift card numbers, wire transfers, or bank routing numbers, or to make bitcoin deposits for any purpose. NEVER divulge personal or financial information to unknown callers.

The individual will pretend to be in a dating relationship with you, usually communicating via text/phone call in the student’s native language.

Warning Signs

  • Individual will ask that you send them money in order for you to meet in person.
  • If money is sent, the individual will usually keep demanding more and more money.
  • Individual may threaten or blackmail you with information, such as threatening to send pictures of you to others or by threatening your immigration status.

The individual receives a phone call, email, letter, or an official-looking form asking for personal information or saying that you still owe taxes.

Warning Signs

  • The scammer may leave a message with an “urgent” callback request.
  • The number may appear to be the official IRS phone number.
  • The caller will demand immediate payment via credit card, debit card, or phone, which the real IRS will never do.
  • The caller will threaten arrest or deportation if you do not comply.
  • The caller will claim that they are the IRS and just need to “verify” a few details of your latest tax payment. This is the scammer’s attempt to gain personal information such as your social security number.
  • A letter from a law firm or collection agency claims you owe taxes. Check with the tax professional who helped you file your taxes to check the legitimacy of these letters.
  • You receive an email requesting that you “update your IRS e-file.”

Recent IRS Impersonation Scam

This scam is targeting individuals associated with educational institutions, specifically students and staff who have an “.edu” email address. The phishing emails seemingly come from “irs.gov”, display an impressive, yet fake IRS logo and use various subject lines, such as “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.” The email directs the individual to click on a link and submit personal information to claim their tax refund. “IRS-impersonation” scam that is targeting individuals associated with educational institutions, specifically students and staff who have an “.edu” email address. The phishing emails seemingly come from “irs.gov”, display an impressive, yet fake IRS logo and use various subject lines, such as “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.” The email directs the individual to click on a link and submit personal information to claim their tax refund.

INDIVIDUALS WHO RECEIVE THIS SCAM EMAIL SHOULD NOT CLICK ON ANY LINK IN THE EMAIL.

As a reminder, the IRS will NOT initiate email contact with a taxpayer without consent.  The 2020 tax return is the first year that the IRS has included the option for the taxpayer to insert an email address. IF the taxpayer inserts an email address, the IRS may choose to send an email; however, any email from the IRS will NOT include links to claim a refund or ask for any secure information such as social security number, date of birth or bank account information.

The IRS asks that individuals who receive such an email to please send it to them.  For security reasons, they should not forward the email, rather they should save the email using “save as” and then send that as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov or forward the email as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov.

The person selling something takes your money without delivering the product you were promised, or the person buying something you are selling claims that they will pay you via Paypal, but never pay for the item.

Warning Signs

  • The scammer will frequently misspell words in their text messages or emails to you.
  • The scammer asks you to send a high-cost item to West Africa.
  • The scammer offers more money than you are requesting for a product you are selling.
  • If offering an apartment, they will require payment without ever showing you the apartment.
  • If the offer is a great deal and far below the market value, it is probably a scam.

Someone contacts you saying that you will get cheaper tuition if you go through them. They end up stealing your money.

Warning Signs

  • The scammer will ask for your NetID and password to access your account and “pay” their bill.
  • The scammer will claim to give you a discount if you work through them.

Someone contacts you claiming there is an issue with a package.

Warning Signs

  • You will receive a call about a package you did not order and the scammer will say a delivery has been attempted.
  • The scammer will claim you have been accused of various crimes.
  • The scammer will obtained and use basic personal information about you to convince you of their legitimacy.
  • The scammer will ask you to transfer large sums of money to ensure you will not be arrested.

Additional Resources