Police warn against phone, internet scams

URBANA — U. of I. Police are reminding students and others to be on guard against potential scams that may come their way via the internet or phone after receiving several reports within the past few weeks.

At least three students have reported being the victims of extortion schemes after being contacted online by people they do not know. The offenders lure the victims into a video chat and convince them to perform sexual acts on screen. The victims are unwittingly recorded performing those acts, and the offender later tells the victim that they will release the video unless they are paid off.

According to the FBI, reports of this type of sexual exploitation – commonly referred to as “sextortion” – are increasing across the country. The crime can cause emotional distress and is very difficult to investigate as the offenders typically use false names and are located elsewhere.

The best way to avoid falling victim to a sextortion scheme is to remain vigilant and skeptical of online acquaintances whom you have never met in person. Remember they may not be telling the truth and aim to lure victims into a false sense of security.

Those who do become a target of an offender should make note of the user’s online profiles, usernames and contact info to report to police. Communication with the offender should stop immediately.

It is not recommended to pay a scammer. Offenders may return the next day for even more money.

Other U. of I. students have reported falling victim to a separate, phone-based scam, for which the offender purports to be a representative of the IRS. The caller informs the victim that they owe tax money and threatens them with penalties or imprisonment if they do not pay. The victim is then instructed to purchase hundreds or thousands of dollars in gift cards and to read the gift card numbers over the phone.

In a recent report, one U. of I. student was scammed out of $2,350. Often, offenders target international students who may not be familiar with U.S. government or culture.

If anyone is receives a suspicious call, they can contact the University of Illinois Police Department at 217-333-1216 to speak with a detective. Even if you do not fall victim to a scam, reporting the call may help prevent others from being victimized.

These are two of many possible scams that offenders may contrive. For more information about internet scams or to make a complaint, please visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Complaints to the Internet Crime Complaint Center should be made in addition to and not instead of a report to your local police department.

Those interested may sign up for scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission.