OIA Scam Warning and Information
International students are often the target of ellaborate scams involving phone calls, emails, and other channels to convince a student they are in trouble and must pay a fee or fine to avoid further trouble. If this has happened to you, please know you are not alone - the information below is meant to provide students with knowledge so they can avoid becoming the victim of a scam and losing money or personal information not intended to be shared publicly.
There are many types of scams - some include:
- Immigration scams where a caller will appear and claim to be from a U.S. government agency
- Deportation and arrest scams where the caller will threaten a student that unless they pay a fine they will be arrested and/or deported
- Job opportunity scam where someone offers you a great job or internship, but requires payment up front
- Tax scams, SSN scams, scams involving what appears to be government agents from a students home country, etc.
- Rental scams where someone is pretending to be the owner/landlord of a property and wants to charge you to see it in person or will charge you a deposit on a property that does not exist
- Credit score scams telling you to check your credit score online - only trust your bank or credit card company or freecreditreport.com when it comes to sharing information regarding your SSN or credit history in the U.S.
OIA warns all international students and scholars (and their dependents) about scams using recognized government telephone numbers. Scammers have identified themselves as “U.S. Immigration” or "Social Security Administration" among others and have altered their caller ID so the call appears to be coming from a recognized government agency, from 911, or from another known government telephone number. Scammers have also misrepresented themselves are agents from other government agencies asking students to "look up" the phone number online from where they are calling to prove legitimacy. This is a scam and if you receive a call like this, please hang up and block the caller/number.
Government officials (either U.S. or international) will never call you. Beware of scammers and imposters calling from recognized government numbers claiming you are in violation of your immigration status, social security status, etc., and asking you for money. Please review the information carefully and contact OIA any time you have any questions about your immigration statuses or requests you receive.
Tips for Spotting a Scam:
- Pretends to be someone you know - scammers often pretend to be contacting you from the IRS or Social Security Administration, a government agency (USCIS, ICE, etc.) or from a company you may be familiar with. They might make up a name that sounds official or pretend to be calling on behalf of a loved one or friend.
- Presents you with a conditional prize or problem - scammers may say you've won a prize that sounds too good to be true and you have to pay a fee to receive it. They might say you are in trouble or someone you know/love is in trouble with the government and you have to pay a fee or penalty.
- Pressures you to act immediately - scammers want you to act before you have time to think. They may say a family member has an emergency or your computer has a virus. Sometimes they may threaten you with legal action, arrest or to freeze your bank account.
- Asks to you pay in a specific manner - scammers will often insist you pay by sending money through a payment app, wire transfer, or by putting money on a gift card and then reading them the number on the back. Some will send you a fake check, ask you to deposit it and send them the money.
Actions to Help Protect Yourself from Scams
- Block - filter unwanted emails to your spam folder and block unwanted calls/texts.
- Resist - don't let anyone pressure or threaten you into giving them personal information or money. Hang up or don't respond and block the number.
- Refuse - even if it's a business or entity you recognize, don't give your personal or financial information (including SSN) to anyone who contacts you.
- Pause - if anyone says you must act right now, stop and ask yourself "is this how a legitimate company would act?" If something seems "off," it probably is.
- Validate - instead of clicking links in emails or text messages or calling the number provided to you, use a company's contact info from their official website.
- Talk - if someone tells you to keep a secret or says somethings suspicious that makes you feel uncomfortable, stop and speak to someone about what is happening with someone you trust (e.g. a friend, professor, adviser, or call OIA).
How does it often work?
Scammers will call and demand the individual provide or verify personally identifiable information, often by telling individuals that they are victims of identity theft, in violation of address updates, or other violations, as well as positive information like prize winner, internship offers, etc. It is not impossible for a scammer to collect information about you otherwise publicly available online. Avoid speaking at all to someone calling and claiming to be a representnative of a government agency or with good news you have solicited or applied to and are aware of. Hang up the phone immediately and block the number to prevent scammers from calling back.
For more on common USCIS scams visit: https://www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams/common-scams
If a Scammer Calls You
If you receive a call demanding personal information or payment, hang up immediately and block the number. You may verify your status or learn more about scams by doing the following:
- Call OIA and explain you believe you were the victim of a scam. We can verify that your immigration record is intact and correct.
- Call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 to ask if you need to do anything about your case or immigration status,
- Use myUSCIS to find up-to-date information about any pending applications you may have with USCIS.
- Read the most recent USCIS Scam Alerts
Remember, government officials will never threaten you or ask for payment over the phone or in an email. If a government agency needs payment, you will receive a letter on official letterhead requesting payment and be offered the opportunity to call customer service to ask questions or verify payment information.
Do not give payment over the phone to anyone who claims to be a government official. In general, we encourage you to protect your personal information and not to provide details about your immigration application in any public area.
How to Report a Call from a Scammer
If you receive a scam email or phone call, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
Additional information and resources:
- UChicago Safety & Security Guide to Frauds and Scams: https://safety-security.uchicago.edu/services/fraud_prevention_resources/
- For more about current scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts
- If you are not sure if it is a scam, forward the suspicious email to the USCIS webmaster at firstname.lastname@example.org. USCIS will review the emails received and share with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.
- Visit the Avoid Scams Initiative at www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams for more information on common scams and other important tips.
- Interstride blog post on scams specific to international students: https://www.interstride.com/blog/common-scams-every-international-student-should-know/
- Social Security Administration Take Action: https://oig.ssa.gov/scam-awareness/take-action/