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.
One student reported:
I received an automated call from what seemed to be a government phone number telling me my social security information has been compromised. After I pressed 1 to find out more I spoke with a man who told me he was from Social Security Administration. I did not remember my SSN so they asked me to select out of three possible numbers. I was then informed that there exists a warrant for my arrest due to drug trafficking and money laundering...I was told that someone must have stolen my identity and I have to transfer my money to a government secure account (or what they termed Government Elect Federal Security Card Saving) so that this person cannot access my funds. I was told that if I did not do this, the government would freeze my account and I would lose all my money. I had to take out money from my account, put it on reloadable cards (purchased in Target, Whole Foods, etc.), and give him the access codes along with pictures of these cards. I was told that a social security administrator will show up at my address to provide me with a new SSN and a refund check.
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/