Avoiding Scams & Fraud

What is a Scam?

A scam is a dishonest attempt to obtain money or something else of value. Scammers are people who lie and misrepresent themselves to steal money and confidential information.

It is important to protect yourself from these people who might try to scam you for money or steal your identity.

Common Scams

Be aware of these common scam types:

  • Immigration scams: Someone claiming to be a US immigration official or an official from another government;
  • Tax scams: Someone claiming to be from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) saying you owe money;
  • Employment scams: Someone claiming to find a job for you if you pay them money (see section below);
  • Tuition scams: Someone claiming to provide a tuition discount if you use their service;
  • Craigslist scams: Someone claiming they want to buy your item very urgently;
  • Apartment rental scams: Someone claiming to want to rent your apartment, with no actual interest in doing so;
  • Relationship scams: Someone pretending to be in a dating relationship through text or phone call, who wants money to meet in person;
  • Kidnapping scams: Someone calls your parents, grandparents, or a loved one and claims that they have kidnapped you and want ransom money in exchange for your life.
  • Home country scams: Someone calls and tells you that they have some damaging information about your family in your home country. They speak in your native language and claim that they will help your family if you send money overseas.
  • Social Security Number (SSN) scams: Someone calls and tells you that your SSN has been compromised. They ask you to provide personal information in order to help you.

How To Recognize and Avoid Scams

Typical Characteristics of a Scam:

  • The person on the phone doesn’t say who they are, or if they do, it’s a fake organization/department;
  • Sometimes the phone number is “spoofed,” meaning that it looks like the call is coming from an official agency, such as the IRS, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the police, but it is not;
  • They say false information such as, “There is a problem with your taxes/ immigration status.” They don’t provide specifics;
  • They may call you in your preferred language;
  • They will try to rush you and want you to act quickly;
  • They usually demand money or gift cards – often hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars;
  • They might want you to meet with them at a certain place;
  • They may threaten you with deportation, blackmail, violence, etc.;
  • They might tell you to stay on the line and not hang up;
  • They may tell you that you must keep the conversation/exchange secret and try to schedule another call at a later date;
  • The caller may know your school, phone number, and address;
  • They might want to send you money and then demand you purchase things for them.

We also have these helpful videos for you to watch:
Avoiding Financial Scams

Remember, U.S. government and law enforcement agencies, including the IRS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ICE, the U.S. Department of State, and the police will:

Never ask for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information (such as Apple/Walmart gift cards) over the telephone.

Never request immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. You would receive a notification from a US government office before any phone call is made to you.

How to Respond if You Are The Target of a Scam

If You Receive a Call Like This, Gather Information:

  • What day and time did they call?
  • Who did they say they were?
  • What exactly did they say? What did they want you to do?
  • Did a transaction occur in person (cash) or electronically (transfer/credit card)?

Please contact ISS if you get a call like this. To prevent yourself from falling victim to a scam, review information from the USCIS on common immigration scams. For crime prevention and tips, see the UW-Madison Police Department‘s website.

If You Receive a Phishing Scam Email:

Scammers send email messages in an attempt to trick you into revealing personal identity information that can be used to commit fraud, a practice commonly referred to as Phishing.

To Report Phishing Or Spam

To report general phishing emails, simply forward the suspected phishing email to reportphishing@apwg.org. To report phishing emails that appear to be from within the UW-Madison campus, go to Report an Incident.
To report emails that appear to be spam, forward the email to is-spam@doit.wisc.edu.

ISS Advice for You:

  • Screen your calls – let incoming calls go to your voicemail; then listen to the message to know if it is someone suspicious calling who might be trying to scam you;
  • If you are having a phone conversation and think it might be a scam, hang up the call;
  • Do not give money or promise to give money;
  • Do not meet up with the person;
  • Do not tell them any personal or financial information;
  • If you feel threatened or unsafe, call 911;
  • Monitor/change information–bank account, credit card, online accounts, passwords, etc. depending on the nature of the call; if you see suspicious activity or think you have been the victim of a scam, call your bank immediately!
  • You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or USCIS
  • If you receive any unusual demands in the mail, bring it to ISS and meet with an advisor;
  • If you feel upset/anxious/need to talk to someone, call University Health Services: 608-265-5600 (for 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Services, dial option 9);if you receive a call and you are not sure if it is a scam, contact ISS for a second opinion;
  • Please share this information with your friends to help prevent this from happening to others.

If you receive a call and you are not sure if it is a scam, contact ISS for a second opinion!

Adapted with permission from New York University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.