Scams are dishonest, fraudulent, illegal schemes to make money, especially those that involve tricking people. Unfortunately, there are often scams targeting International Students and Scholars in the United States.
This web page provides resources for students and scholars to help recognize these scams, and know how to react. If you have been the victim of a scam, you should contact the police immediately. If you receive suspicious phone calls or emails, please contact Director of International Student & Scholar Services, Jennifer Gruenewald: email@example.com.
Beware of scammers claiming to be with any U.S. government agency involved with immigration matters: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Counter Terrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU), United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), SEVIS, Customs & Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Department of State (aka, the State Dept or DOS), or the out-of-date name Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS). USCIS has helpful resources on their AVOID SCAMS webpage, including information on common immigration scams.
In addition, please be wary of any phone calls or emails you may receive from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS website describes potential scams that could affect you. If you receive any suspicious emails from the IRS, report them to the IRS.
Phone calls from USCIS, FBI, IRS, or Police department
Here is a real story:
A local student received a phone call from the FBI office in La Crosse, WI. The caller told the student that she was being investigated for tax fraud based on unpaid tuition tax. The student thought the call sounded like a scam and when she questioned the speaker he told her to google the number. The Google search confirmed that the number was the La Crosse FBI office. She was told that failure to pay would result in her being arrested and immediately deported. She began to comply. She was told to purchase gift cards and give the gift card numbers to the scammers. They immediately transferred the balances. She realized this was not appropriate and contacted the police, the bank, etc., but the money was gone.
Scammers often know your name, address, phone number, your home country, and other personal information. They may SPOOF phone numbers from legitimate law enforcement offices. One of the techniques they use is to tell you to Google their number. The Google search will tell you that the number is a legitimate number. BE AWARE THAT THEY HAVE SPOOFED THESE PHONE NUMBERS. EVEN IF THE NUMBER IS LEGITIMATE, the person calling you is not.
Here is what you should know:
- None of these offices (IRS, FBI, police) will call you regarding a tax or fines. If you get a call from someone saying they are from one of these agencies, follow the next two steps:
- Calmly ask what the call is regarding. Take specific notes about what the caller is saying and requesting;
- Politely request the agent’s information. Write down the agent’s full name, agency, and any identification number he or she can provide. Also request his or her direct phone number so you can call back. If the caller does not want to give you this information, it is probably a scam. Hang up immediately.
- None of these offices will EVER require you to pay immediately and certainly DO NOT give any credit/debit card information over the phone. DO NOT give anyone your banking information. These offices will NEVER require you to purchase gift cards. They will NEVER ask you to go to Western Union. They will NEVER ask you how much money you have on hand. If they insist that you must pay today or you will arrested, deported, etc, it is probably a scam. Hang up immediately.
- You can hang up at any time. If it is a legitimate call, they will call back and leave a message.
- If the callers are threatening you, tell them that you will call them back with your attorney. They will usually tell you that you cannot disclose to anyone the discussion. This is a big RED FLAG. Hang up immediately.
- CIE can help you evaluate any communication you receive from someone claiming to be from a U.S. government agency. If you receive a phone call, please contact CIE after you hang up to discuss the situation.
Email from USCIS regarding your petition
In June 2017, a school in IOWA reported a new scam that targeting international students. Students received altered I-797Cs emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, claiming to be USCIS. These I-797Cs are requesting payment via phone before their applications could be processed.
Here is what you should know:
- Pay attention to the email address. email@example.com is NOT the email address of USCIS;
- USCIS will always contact you through mail. You should not take any action until you receive the paper notice through your mail;
- If you receive suspicious emails, please call 414-229-4846 to make an appointment with an immigration advisor.
Money for work that you didn’t do
In August 2017, some UWM students received an email from “VistaPrint,” offering students a way to earn money. The email said: “Work with us at the comfort of your home/school and earn $300/week at your convenience, Do email us back with your interest in this opportunity for more Information.” One of the students emailed the company and traded multiple emails and texts. Then he received a check of $2,000.00. Luckily, the student came to meet with us. We were able to figure out: IF the student had deposited the check, the sender would have had all the information about his checking account, and his money in the account would have been stolen.
Here is what you should know:
- As a F1 student, you may NOT work off campus without appropriate authorization;
- There is NO “free lunch.” If you received a check for the work you didn’t do, that is a SCAM.
- If you receive a check and have questions, please bring the check to CIE and meet with an immigration advisor.
There are always new types of scams. Your reports of suspicious phone calls or emails help keep other students and scholars safe.
Phone scam. A student received a call from someone claiming to work for the Department of Homeland Security, calling from a US Capitol Police number, threatening that the student would be imprisoned and deported due to an “issue with their immigration file”. The scammer used threatening language and it was implied that they had access to the student’s IRS tax records, and continually made threats about detaining both the student and their spouse.
The Department of Homeland Security will not ever call you. The student also said the phone number matched the Capitol Police. While they do fall under the jurisdiction of Homeland security they are not involved with any immigration activities and only guard the Capitol in Washington. Finally, it is important to remain calm even when the claims are threatening and scary as this is often a phishing scam attempting to gather your personal information. Do not provide any information to these callers. Be sure to report the scam to DHS directly after.
Email scam from firstname.lastname@example.org with the Subject: Selected in the USCIS H1-B Lottery.
This is a well designed phishing scam, please be aware that you should not ever take up offers relating to visas from sources that aren’t familiar. If you get an email offering to help you set up your visa, please contact ISSS@UWM.edu to confirm if it is valid.
A copy of the text is here:
The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (Ombudsman) would like to warn its stakeholders of reports that certain Department of Homeland Security (DHS) telephone numbers, including the Ombudsman’s main telephone number, have been used recently as part of a telephone spoofing scam targeting individuals throughout the country. Spoofing is the deliberate falsifying of information transmitted to a caller ID display to disguise an identity.
The Ombudsman’s Office numbers (202-357-8100 and 1-855-882-8100) appear to have been compromised. The scammers use various tactics, such as the threat of identity theft, to elicit sensitive information. Very little is known at this time, but please be aware that we – indeed any government office – would never ask for sensitive information over the telephone, such as Social Security numbers or credit card information.
Please note that it continues to be safe to make calls to the Ombudsman’s Office using our telephone numbers and email posted to our website.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of this telephone spoofing scam is urged to call the DHS OIG Hotline (1-800-323-8603) or file a complaint online via the DHS OIG website www.oig.dhs.gov. You may also contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint and/or report identity theft.
An international student received a call from someone claiming to belong to the Social Security Administration. Similar to the alert posted on 9/25, this call claimed that the student’s account was going to be suspended and that the SSA was going to file a lawsuit against them. The Social Security Administration does not suspend your account and will not ever call you to threaten you. If you receive a call of this nature, do not provide your social security information or any account information and instead call the real SSA and provide a complaint.
An international student received an email from a person claiming to be a professor/doctor asking the student to help them with some errands in exchange for an upfront payment. The letter concludes by mentioning a possibility of long-term employment if the work is determined to be satisfactory.
Be wary of offers of employment for work outside of UWM.
An international student received a call from someone claiming to belong to the Social Security Administration. It was a prerecording that directed them to speak with a staff administrator, and it took a threatening turn. The message threatened to cancel the benefits and lock the social security account forever if the student didn’t speak with an “administrator”. Your social security number will not be suspended and the SSA will never threaten your benefits. For more information, read this.
An international student reports that he received a call from a person claiming to be from the Social Security office. The student was given the telephone number of CIE to legitimize the call. The caller tried to get the student to provide personal information. Please know that the Social Security office will never telephone you. If Social Security has questions, they will send a formal letter to your home address. If you receive a call like this or any other suspicious call, hang up. Do not provide any personal information. Contact Director of International Student & Scholar Services, Jennifer Gruenewald: email@example.com.
Several people have received automated (aka “robo”) calls from the “IRS” saying that if they do not return the call and provide a credit card number, they will be deported and/or put in jail. Our advice is to write down the telephone number and report any call you receive like this to an immigration coordinator at CIE. DO NOT call the number. The IRS will not telephone you directly and will never ask you for a credit card.
A UWM Professor reported the following and gave us permission to share the story to help others be aware of possible scam phone calls:
I first received a phone call from a number that belongs to the Nashville city police department at North Precinct. A woman transferred my phone call to a “senior officer”. However, I don’t remember if this “senior officer” claimed he’s from somewhere. But this man claimed that I violated some IRS rules and committed crimes. He said that if I don’t follow his words I will be arrested by FBI immediately. He used a lot of “Iaw” words that I am not familiar with. So, I said I am not a native speaker and do not completely understanding what he was saying and asked if he could provide me his phone number and materials about my case in writing. I mentioned I need to find a lawyer for my case. He refused and asked, “You have been in the US for almost 7 years and you don’t understand English?”
After my phone call was hanged up, I called 911 and the Nashville police department “Urgency Without Emergency” number. Both said I might have received a scam call. The police officer also mentioned that : 1) people can make up the phone number so it looks like an office number from a government agency; and 2) if the police or FBI wants to arrest me, they will not notify me about it at all. So, what the man said did not make sense. 🙂
A student received a call from a person claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The student was told that if he did not pay $95,000 immediately, he would be arrested and deported the next day. Thankfully, the student did not give the caller any personal information or money. The student reported the call immediately to the international office and made a report to campus police. Campus police said that scams may increase over the holidays so it’s important to remember to never give personal information over the phone, to report suspicious calls, and that the IRS will always send physical mail rather than contact via telephone.
A student at UWM received a phone call that spoofed the Milwaukee Police department. He was threatened with arrest and deportation. The student hung up, called the police department, and confirmed that was a SCAM. He reported this to CIE immediately. This student advises other students who receive calls like this: “Don’t panic even if the caller ID number seems real!”
A student at UWM received a check for the work he didn’t do. He brought the check to CIE and found out it was a SCAM.
A student from Iowa received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org claiming to be USCIS, including genuine looking immigration documents, and demanding payment via phone to receive permanent residency. It was a SCAM.
An international student in New York City received a phone call from someone claiming to be from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The phone number matched the USCIS toll-free number. The caller claimed that on a recent trip abroad, the student had not filled out his I-94 card correctly and USCIS caught the error on the student’s pending OPT application. The caller had the student’s name, date of birth, address, phone number, and could confirm the last 4 digits of his I-94 number. The caller told the student that he needed to leave the United States immediately because a criminal case was pending against him.
When the student said he could not travel abroad currently, the caller said that “USCIS” could help him but only if he took action and sent money within the next two hours. The student was told that if he did not send money immediately, he would be deported within 24 hours. The student told the caller that he needed to call his International Students and Scholars Office to verify, but the caller said that if he hung up or even put the caller on hold, “USCIS” could not help him. The caller also told him that “USCIS” had already sent a court summons to his home address abroad but there had been no response. The caller then gave the student detailed instructions on how to send money via Western Union from a nearby drug store. The caller also told him that in order to fix the I-94 problem, he would need to pay additional money for a temporary A#, which he would then need to take to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at JFK Airport where the student would be assisted further. Unfortunately, the panicked student fell for the SCAM and ended up sending over $1,600 to “USCIS.” (Source: NAFSA)