Phone and internet scams are common no matter where you are. Be aware of how to identify scams and what to do if you encounter one.

In these scams and many others that have occurred over the years, the scammers tend to target international students. Often, there are language or cultural barriers that make international students more susceptible.

Here are the red flags to keep in mind when you receive a call from an unknown person:

  • No government official will ever demand money over the phone. If someone claims to be a police officer, immigration official, a tax agent, or any other government representative demanding money, the call is likely a scam.
  • Scammers try to intimidate victims with empty threats of arrest or deportation. If a caller threatens to have you arrested if you hang up, the call is likely a scam.
  • Often, scammers will demand payment in the form of something other than cash. If a caller directs you to purchase gift cards or transfer payment in the form of virtual currency, the call is likely a scam.
  • Sometimes, scammers will direct you to visit a series of banks to withdraw cash. Scammers know that withdrawing large amounts of cash raises red flags for bank employees, so they will direct the victim to visit a number of banks to withdraw smaller amounts.
  • Scammers often “spoof” phone numbers of legitimate agencies. Number “spoofing” makes the victim’s caller ID display a legitimate phone number even though the call is originating from somewhere entirely different. If you have doubts about a caller’s identity, you should hang up and call the listed number for that agency to speak to a representative.

If you encounter any of these red flags, hang up immediately and call police. The 24-hour non-emergency number for the University of Illinois Police Department is 217-333-1216, or you can email us at

Scam log

These scams have been reported to the University of Illinois Police Department. We post them here so you can be better informed about what to watch out for.

  • Counterfeit Facebook purchase

    A U. of I. student used Facebook to sell a mobile phone and was contacted by an interested buyer. The two met up to complete the transaction, and the buyer drove away with the phone before the student realized that he had been paid with counterfeit money.

  • False threats

    A U. of I. student reported that he received several phone calls and text messages from an unknown person who was threatening to harm the student’s family members unless the student sent money. The student used Zelle to send $3,000 in two transactions to an unknown person. The scammer demanded even more money to “cancel the hit man.” Police were contacted, and the student discontinued contact with the scammer.

  • Fake apartment sublease

    An Illinois student reported that she was seeking an apartment sublease near her summer internship in Madison, Wisconsin, and sent a text message to an unknown person advertising an apartment on Craigslist. The advertiser asked the student to complete an application and send it back with a copy of her driver’s license. The advertiser then asked for a security deposit of $1,100, paid via wire transfer. Since completing the transfer, the student has not been able to contact the advertiser.

  • Hotel call

    An employee of a hotel on campus reported that she received a call at the front desk from an unknown person who claimed that she had a warrant for her arrest and that she needed to pay $900 to clear her name. The employee provided personal information to the caller before recognizing the scam and contacting police.

  • Fake apartment sublease

    On January 21, a U. of I. student answered a Facebook advertisement for an apartment sublease and paid $550 for the application fee and security deposit. When the student asked to see the apartment, the supposed property owner asked for more money. The student attempted on March 4 to transfer the money as directed to a third party using the Zelle mobile app, but the transaction was declined. At that point, the student determined it was a scam and contacted police.

  • Sexual extortion

    A U. of I. student reported that an unknown person sent him a friend request on Instagram and initiated a private conversation, during which the unknown person encouraged the student to send intimate photos of himself. After the photo was sent, the unknown person demanded that the student use a mobile app to send $400 under threat of publicly posting the photo. The student complied. The unknown person continued sending threatening messages demanding more money. The student did not respond to the follow-up messages.

  • Fake job ad

    A U. of I. student reported that he had received an email advertising a job opportunity with a university professor. The email directed the student to text an unknown number, which he did. The scammer asked the student to send $200 via electronic transfer of the student’s own money to a third party, promising that the student would be reimbursed. The student was then sent a check for $1,875 via email and asked to deposit the money, at which point he became suspicious and ended communication with the scammer.

  • Sexual extortion

    A U. of I. student reported that he was contacted via Instagram by an unknown person, who then suggested they move the conversation to Snapchat. The student was encouraged to send intimate photos of himself to the unknown person, who then took screenshots of the images and threatened to send them to the student’s social media contacts unless he paid money via electronic transfer. Several transactions were declined, but a transaction for $250 was completed.

  • Fake investment scheme

    A U. of I. student reported that he befriended an unknown person through Instagram who got him interested in an investment plan involving cryptocurrency. The student transferred as much as $40,000 to the fake account over the course of several months. When he asked to withdraw the money, the person facilitating the investments cut off communication.

  • Fake customer support

    A U. of I. student reported that he was experiencing issues with his Apple AirPods and Googled the customer support number. The student called the number and spoke with an individual purporting to be a customer service representative. The representative ultimately told the student that all his Apple devices had been hacked and transferred him to another person who said he was a bank representative who would help him protect his financial data. The bank representative told him there was criminal activity on his account, and that the student had to transfer $2,900 in the form of BitCoin to a third party to rectify the issue.