ISS receives many reports about students and employees becoming targets of scams. We hope the information below will help you to identify a scam and know what to do if you are targeted.
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.
Be aware of a few common scams:
- Immigration scams: Someone claiming to be a US Immigration official or an official from another government;
- Tax scams: Someone claiming to be from the 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.
Remember, the US government and law enforcement, including the Internal Revenue Service, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the US Department of State, the police, etc. 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 usually receive prior notification from US government offices before any phone call is made to you.
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, but it is not;
- They say false information such as “There is a problem with your taxes or immigration status” – they don’t provide specifics;
- They want you to act quickly;
- They usually demand money – often 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;
- 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.
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 US Citizenship and Immigration Services on common immigration scams. For crime prevention and tips, see the UW-Madison Police Department‘s website. We also have these helpful videos for you to watch:
ISS Advice for You:
- Hang up;
- 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;
- 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 receive a call and you are not sure if it is a scam, contact ISS for a second opinion;
- If you feel upset/anxious/need to talk to someone, call the University Health Services: 608-265-5600 (for 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Services, dial option 9);
- Please share this information with your friends, to help prevent this from happening to others.
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Avoiding Employment Scams
While you are working hard to land your dream job or internship, also be aware that if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Con artists and scammers post fraudulent jobs and offer services that can be difficult to spot. If you receive a suspicious email or call from an employer, or have suspicious contact with an employer during an interview or in-person interaction, it is extremely important to exercise caution. Additionally, fraudulent employers and organizations often contact students outside of the career center platforms through email, student clubs, and social media channels.
If you feel uncomfortable about a job opportunity or offered service, do not click on any links and do not provide any personal information.
Also, while there are many reputable third party recruitment and staffing agencies, use discretion engaging with individuals and organizations who charge extensive fees for career coaching and resume writing support (which you can access through Career Services). Also, be extremely cautious engaging with services which offer guaranteed internship or job placement.
Review the list of common ‘red flags’ that may indicate a fraudulent employer or service below:
- Offers to pay a large amount of money for very little work, offers to send you a check before you have begun any work, or offers you a job without ever interacting with you
- Requires you to pay a large amount of money for a ‘guaranteed’ job or internship placement
- Requests personal information from you such as Social Security Number, bank account numbers, credit card information, copies of your passport or license and/or other personal documents
- Requests you to transfer or wire money from one account to another
- Offers you a large payment in exchange for allowing the use of your bank account — often for depositing checks or transferring money, or sends you an unexpectedly large check
- Requests payment by wire service or courier or gift card
- A contact’s email address which doesn’t match the company’s website domain (i.e. JohnSmith@gmail.com rather than JohnSmith@companyname.com)
If you are suspicious of an email or interaction, end all communication with the employer and contact ISS. Also, please contact UW-Madison Police Department 608-264-2677 to file a report.
If the incident occurred completely over the Internet, you can file an incident report with the US Department of Justice or by calling the FTC at: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
Once you are hired, if you have any concerns about the legitimacy of the company or believe the work environment to be unsafe, contact the US Department of Labor.
- Federal Trade Commission information on phone scams
- Common immigrant scams
- File a complaint regarding a scam
- International Revenue Service on tax scams/consumer alerts
- Study in the State blog post on scams
- DoIT: Learn how to recognize and report phishing
- DoIT: Tips to Avoid Phishing Scams
- Campus Area Housing Resources (see Rental Scams)
Adapted with permission from New York University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.