UIPD warns community about recent phone scams

URBANA, Ill. – Campus community members should be on high alert when they receive calls from unknown numbers – police are aware of a number of recent incidents in which students were convinced to send thousands of dollars to scammers.

In the recent string of calls, the scammer purports to be a representative of some official agency and claims that the recipient of the call is under investigation for a serious crime. The caller then claims that the recipient can resolve the investigation by paying a large amount of money to the government.

In two cases reported to UIPD in April, students separately paid nearly $21,000 and $50,000 to the scammers. It is believed that other students have been the victims of these scam calls but have not reported the incidents to police.

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.