Avoiding Scams

Do not become a scam victim or identity theft victim

A lot of international students are receiving fake calls from people impersonating the police, a law enforcement agency, or a representative of a U.S. government agency. These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These calls can sound convincing. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the real agency is calling. They use fake names and bogus government agency identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request. 

ISS wants to help all international students avoid being the victim of a scam. Receiving a scam phone call is unforunately something that is experienced by nearly everyone in the U.S., including international students. 

Scam phone calls can seem legitimate at first, but if you know the warning signs you can avoid becoming a victim. Scam callers are crooks trying to steal your money or identity. 
  • Do not ever pay a scam caller or give them your personal information.
  • The US government does not accept payment through gift cards.
  • It is a scam if they ask you to pay by purchasing gift cards.
One of the most deceptive practices used by scam callers is spoofing.  This is where they impersonate an official phone number and claim to represent an organization when in truth they do not. Often scam callers claim to be from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Embassies or Consulates, or even the police. The phone number that appears on your incoming call may appear to be official, but the scam caller may be spoofing the phone number to trick you into believing them. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caller_ID_spoofing).

A common scenario is that the victim is told he/she owes money for tuition, unpaid taxes, or outstanding arrest warrants and payment must be made promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are threatened with arrest, deportation, or dismissal from the university. In many cases, the callers become aggressive, hostile and insulting.
These con artists have access to a lot of the victim’s personal information through social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter etc, which makes them sound very convincing.
What are some of the warning signs that a call is a scam? 
  • The caller expresses urgency and demands that you respond immediately. 
  • The caller tries to convince you to disclose personal and/or financial information. 
  • The caller wants you to pay through gift cards.
  • The caller isolates you by telling you not to talk to others or seek help. 
  • The caller will have you go to the bank or purchase gift cards and have you give the numbers over the phone. 
  • The caller threatens you with negative consequences if you do not comply.
  • The caller speaks to you in an aggressive, hostile, or insulting manner. 
What should you do if you receive a call and you are unsure if it is a scam? 
  • DO NOT provide any personal or financial information to the caller.
    • Personal information: full name, date of birth, etc.
    • Financial information: bank account number, credit card number, Social Security Number, etc.
    • The US government does not accept payments by gift cards.  
    • If they want you to pay immediately or to purchase gift cards or a pre-paid debit card, it is scam. DO NOT do it!
  • If someone calls stating they need to meet with you in an official capacity, you can ask ISS to help you verify the authenticity of the call. Inform ISS by giving us a call at 979-845-1824. 
  • If you believe you have received a scam call, it is best to report it to local law enforcement. 
    • If you live on the College Station campus, report scams to the University Police Department at 979-845-2345.
    • If you live off-campus in College Station, report scams to the College Station Police Department at 979-764-3600.
    • If you live off-campus in Bryan, report scams to the Bryan Police Department or the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office at 979-361-3888. 
    • If you live outside of Bryan/College Station, please report the scam to your local police department’s non-emergency phone number. 
The U.S. government and law enforcement agencies WILL NEVER:
  • Call to demand immediate payment. Though intimidating, remember that these callers are trying to scam you and they are not real threats!
  •  Demand that you pay taxes or debts without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes or debts, such as a prepaid debit card or gift cards.
  •  Ask for credit or debit card or gift card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal financial or tax issues.
*If you pay scammer, you lose the money. If you provide them sensitive information, you may become the victim of identity theft. 
Scammers may also try to get your sensitive information through email.  This is called phishing.  Phishing is “the activity of defrauding an online account holder of financial information by posing as a legitimate company.”  Do not send sensitive information by email or by clicking on a fake link in a email.
As a reminder, if you receive a suspicious email, or know an email is a phishing attempt, your best course of action is to forward the email as an attachment to TAMU IT at helpdesk@tamu.edu. With the email highlighted in your inbox or open, press Crtl + Alt + F. This will open a new email with the suspicious email as an attachment. Forward this to helpdesk@tamu.edu.
*If you pay scammer, you lose the money. If you provide them sensitive information, you may become the victim of identity theft. 
If you have paid and/or released sensitive information to a scammer, please do the following.
Additional Resources 

Recently, (updated February 10, 2021) the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration released a Fraud Advisory warning the public about widespread Social Security-related telephone scams that may use sophisticated tactics to deceive them into providing sensitive information or money. Tactics such as using real names of Social Security representatives or citing “badge numbers” of law enforcement officers in order to try and legitimize their emails and calls. 

If you are contacted by a scammer, you should just hang up. Also, ignore any suspicious emails. If you do not have ongoing business with our agency, it is unlikely we will contact you.  If you do receive a suspicious call claiming to be from Social Security, you should report it to our Office of Inspector General.  To report a suspicious call or scam, go to https://oig.ssa.gov/.  
There are a few ways you can identify a scam call.  If you do business with us, keep in mind that we will never:
  • Suspend your Social Security number because someone else has used it in a crime;
  • Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee;
  • Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or mailing cash;
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment; or
  • Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.
You can protect your personal information by being aware of phishing scams (emails, internet links, and phone calls) to trick you into revealing personal information and creating a my Social Security account to help you keep track of your records and identify and suspicious activity. For additional tips, check out our publication, How You Can Help Us Protect Your Social Security Number and Keep Your Information Safe.   

If you fall victim to a scammer, we recommend filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission, contacting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and monitoring your credit report.  For more information, including links and phones to these agencies, read our publication, Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number

You can also post scam information at your facility by using our flyer, Protect Yourself from Social Security Scams

Remember, Social Security continues to provide service online at www.socialsecurity.gov and by phone Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  We provide all local office phone numbers conveniently on our website with our Social Security Office Locator.   Although we are not providing service for walk-in visitors, offices may be able to schedule an in-person appointment for limited, critical issues.  To find out if your client is eligible for an in-person appointment go to: https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/#home-038

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a U.S. federal government agency aimed at protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices.

One of their strategic goals is to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. The FTC’s Consumer Information website (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/) contains a significant amount of helpful information related to both preventing and responding to incidents like financial scams, immigration scams, identify theft, and many other consumer complaints. ISS encourages all international students to review the information at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/ so they are better informed and prepared to identify issues. If you believe you have been subject to any form of scam or identify theft, ISS strongly recommends you review the information at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/ in detail and take the action(s) recommended by the FTC. Some of the most relevant FTC webpages that may be of interest to international students include the following:

Don't Approve An Unexpected Duo "Push"

Texas A&M University is seeing a sharp increase in email phishing attempts, especially surrounding COVID. Last week, a sophisticated phishing attack tricked campus members into logging in to a spoofed Texas A&M website to view COVID test results. The hackers then used the stolen login information to add their own devices and phone numbers to the compromised Duo accounts. 

Don't let phishing attempts compromise your Texas A&M account. 

  1. If you receive a Duo "push" login request when you aren’t expecting one — especially if you're not actively logging in to an application or system — do not approve it. 
  2. Review your Duo settings to make sure you recognize all the enrolled devices.
  3. Report any suspicious activity to Help Desk Central (helpdesk@tamu.edu or 979.845.8300) with the date and time.

Remember to scrutinize all messages and look for signs of phishing attempts. Before logging in to a campus service, always double-check website URLs.

If you have questions about Duo, are unsure if a message is legitimate or identify a phishing attempt, email Help Desk Central at helpdesk@tamu.edu or call 979.845.8300.

Fraud Advisory

Scammers Using SEVP and HSI Phone Numbers to Target International Students
If you encounter, or are a victim, of this spoof call, you are encouraged to report the incident to the HSI tip line. Review the BCM and utilize the following resources from SITS.