URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The University of Illinois Police Department reported on Wednesday that two students were recently scammed by people claiming to be law enforcement and threatening arrest. One of those students paid more than $300,000 to pay off the threat.

The $300,000 scam happened on Oct. 20. Officials said the student received a call from someone claiming to be a police officer in China. This supposed officer said the student’s passport had been implicated in illegal activity and that the student needed to pay to avoid being arrested. The student proceeded to transfer $316,000 to an unknown account via a mobile banking app.

University Police was made aware of this scam on Tuesday. Tara Hurless, a UIPD Detective, said she’s seen many scams, but none involving this much money.

The second scam happened on Monday and was reported to University Police the same day. The victim reported that they too were contacted by someone claiming to be law enforcement and who claimed the student had been implicated in illegal activity. The student was directed to pay $950 to avoid arrest; they bought gift cards and gave the information to the caller as payment.

“If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, it’s doing that for a reason,” Hurless said. “You might not necessarily know why, but hang up the phone, don’t reply to the email, call us and say ‘this doesn’t seem right.'”

University Police are well-familiar with scams and maintain a log of scams that have been reported to them in the past. They said that scammers tend to target international students due to language or cultural barriers that make them more susceptible.

There are several red flags that University Police advise people keep in mind when they receive a call from an unknown person:

  • No government official (including police officers, immigration officials and tax agents) will ever demand money over the phone
  • Scammers try to intimidate victims with empty threats of arrest or deportation
  • Scammers will often demand payment in the form of something other than cash, like gift cards or virtual currency
  • To avoid banks becoming suspicious, scammers will sometimes direct victims to visit a series of banks to withdraw cash in small portions that eventually add up
  • Scammers often spoof phone numbers of legitimate agencies

Anyone who encounters one of these red flags is advised to hang up the phone immediately and call police. The University of Illinois Police Department can be reached on its 24-hour non-emergency number: 217-333-1216.

Hurless also said she, and her therapy dog Kirby, lead group safety sessions often talking about crimes like this and other incidents in the community. If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the Community Outreach and Support section of UIPD website.