U. of I. Police warn against phone, internet scams

URBANA, Ill. – U. of I. Police are reminding students and others to be on guard against potential scams at all times.

Now that tax season is here, scams are expected to pick up – especially scams targeting international students. A few recent cases display examples of common red flags:

  • In January, a student attempted to call the customer service line for a mobile app used to make payments to inquire about a refund the student expected to receive. The customer service agent – who was not actually a representative of the company and had posted fraudulent contact information – claimed that the student would need to purchase a Google Play gift card and transmit that information over the phone so that the refund could be processed. After the student complied with the first demand for gift cards, the scammer demanded another payment in the form of gift cards.
  • In February, a U. of I. employee reported that he had been defrauded of $1,500 by an unknown person. The offender impersonated a colleague of the employee and asked the employee via email to purchase iTunes gift cards as a birthday gift for the colleague’s son. The employee purchased the gift cards and sent the card numbers to the offender, who made a false promise of repayment.
  • In February, a U. of I. student reported that someone had made unauthorized charges to her bank account totaling $939 between September 2018 and February 2019. In attempting to report these charges to her bank, the student contacted a person purporting to be a bank representative who directed her to purchase $600 worth of Google Play gift cards and transmit the card information over the phone. The student purchased the cards but notified authorities when she felt something was wrong.

These recent reports display several common red flags:

  • The scammers demand that the victim visit a local store to purchase hundreds of dollars’ worth of gift cards and transmit the card numbers over the phone.
  • The scammers continue their demands for payment even after the initial payment was made.
  • The scammers promise some kind of service in return – either that they would repay the victim or process a refund.

Other common scams include callers who claim to be a representative of the U.S. government or IRS. These callers will claim that the person receiving the call owes money to the government or that there is a problem with their visa. They will often claim that they have an arrest warrant, and the matter can only be resolved if the victim makes a payment with gift cards.

“These scams often have those common threads of demanding payment in the form of gift cards or threats that the victim will be arrested if they hang up the phone or do not comply,” said U. of I. Police Lt. Tom Geis. “It’s important to remember that no legitimate government agency or business will accept payment in the form of gift cards.”

Students should keep these tips in mind when dealing with unknown callers:

  • Maintain a healthy skepticism of callers who claim to be a government official.
  • Government officials – including tax or immigration officials – will never ask you for money over the phone.
  • If you feel unsure about a caller’s identity, you should hang up and call the listed number for that agency to verify the caller’s identity.
  • If you are still unsure, hang up and call police for advice. A legitimate government official will never try to discourage you from taking steps to verify their identity.

Although the University Police Department has not received more reports than usual lately, phone and internet scams are an ongoing issue, particularly for international students and scholars who may not be familiar with how U.S. government officials conduct business.

The University Police Department encourages everyone to call its non-emergency number at 217-333-1216 if you think you may have been the target of a scam or to ask for guidance if you are not sure.

For more information about phone and internet scams, or to file a complaint, you can also visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.