URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The University of Illinois Police Department reported on Tuesday that two new students were collectively scammed out of more than $230,000 in recent months.
Officials said one of the scams started in August and lasted for four months, only recently ending with the student reporting it to U of I Police. The student received a call in August from an unknown person who, impersonating a representative from a parcel delivery company, claimed the company had a package containing illegal items that was addressed to the student. The student was told that he needed to pay $100,000 to avoid prosecution from a foreign police department.
The student was later contacted through a social media app for further instruction. Acting on those instructions, the student created several new bank accounts and transferred $48,000, $51,000 and $23,000 to another bank account, but was later able to recover around $60,000 of this money.
The second student was scammed on Nov. 21. They reported being called by an unknown person who claimed a phone number connected to the student was involved in sending fraudulent messages and she needed to report it to a foreign police department. The student then spoke several times with someone posing as a foreign police officer, who threatened the student with extradition and the freezing of her parents’ assets is she didn’t deposit money in a foreign bank account. The student proceeded to wire $110,000 to the account.
These two scams are the latest to be reported to U of I Police involving hundreds of thousands if dollars. Five such scams have been reported to them in the last six months, all of them involving international students threatened with prosecution.
The University’s International Student and Scholar Services said on its website that international students are often targets for scammers, as some may lack of understanding about how certain systems in the United States. Scammers will often try to intimidate international students and scholars with empty threats of arrest or deportation, preying on their fears of arrest or deportation. They added that scammers often know their targets’ names and basic biographical information, which can make them appear legitimate.
“A lot of the red flags are the same,” UIPD Public Information Officer Pat Wade said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s people saying they’re with the government like the police or the IRS. They’re threatening to arrest you or report you if you don’t pay a certain amount.”
Wade said that while the number of scams this year is level with the number in years past, the amount of money seems to be increasing. One scam resulted in a $300,000 loss, an amount one UIPD Detective said she had never seen before.
“I think the scammers seem to be getting bolder, they’re kind of testing the waters for how much can we get,” Wade added. “If you pay the scammer, they’re not going to stop asking for money. They’re going to keep coming back.”
ISSS offered several tips for people who receive a call or text message they aren’t expecting:
- Do not answer; if the reason for the call is important, the caller will leave a message.
- If one does pick up the phone, hang up immediately if the caller is unknown
- Do not give any personal information to unknown callers
- Call University Police (217-333-1216) to report the fraud attempt
- Check with ISSS if unsure about a call and its legitimacy
- Warn others about the experience
In addition, U of I Police offered several red flags that typically indicate a scam:
- Callers claiming to be government officials (like police and immigration officials) and demanding money over the phone
- Callers threatening arrest or deportation
- Callers demanding payment in the form of something other than cash (like gift cards or virtual currency)
- Callers directing victims to visit a series of banks to withdraw small amounts of money that eventually add up
Anyone who encounters one of these red flags is advised to hang up the phone immediately and call U of I Police.