URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A University of Illinois student is out of $90,000 after University Police said they were scammed by someone on the phone.
Officials said that the student received a string of calls throughout November from someone claiming to be a representative of the Chinese Embassy. The caller told the student that their passport was connected to international crime and threatened the student with deportation. The student paid off the threat on Nov. 21 after two-and-a-half weeks’ worth of calls.
This scam is the latest in a series throughout the year that targeted international students and involved the payment of five- or six-digit amounts of money. All of the scams involved someone claiming to be either authorities in China or Chinese diplomats in the U.S. and telling the victims they had been implicated in criminal activity that required a payment to resolve.
In the last two months, U of I police said there have been 10 scams. Pat Wade with the department added that the number of scams this year is on par with years past, but that the amount of money seems to be increasing.
“I think the scammers seem to be getting bolder, they’re kind of testing the waters for how much can we get?” Wade said. “If you pay the scammer, they’re not going to stop asking for money. They’re going to keep coming back.”
He said the design of the scams is often the same, but they’re still investigating if any are directly connected.
“A lot of the red flags are the same. 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. They ask for payment in forms of gift cards or bitcoin,” Wade added.
The University’s International Student and Scholar Services said on its website that international students are often targets for scammers due to their supposed lack of understanding about how certain systems in the U.S. work and the fear of arrest or deportation. They added that scammers often know their targets’ names and basic biographical information, which can make them appear legitimate.
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, University 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 University Police.