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Scams and Frauds Targeting International Students

As an international student in the US, it is important that you remain aware of your rights and duties and have clear information about immigration requirements and money management.

The wrong help can hurt. Review information about Common Scams on the USCIS website to avoid common immigration scams.

If you receive a suspicious email, forward it to USCIS at USCIS.Webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov.

The scammer will identify themselves as a police officer, government official, USCIS or ICE Agents, or university official and threaten dismissal from the university, deportation from the U.S., or dropped classes unless the student immediately repays money to the government or university.

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. Example: iTunes Gift Card Scam.

  • Ask for credit or debit 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 a student receives a threatening call or message from someone claiming to be a government or law enforcement official, they should:

  • Not give the person any personal or financial information. 

  • Try to collect contact information from the caller. 

  • End the conversation immediately if threats and intimidation persist. 

  • Contact their designated school official and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line

What to do if already a victim?

If you have paid and/or released sensitive information to a scammer, please do the following.

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  • 1. Immigration Scam:

    This happened as recently as early 2013 when international students in leading American universities like Cornell and Stanford were targeted by scamsters via telephone or email. Callers claimed to be from the Department of Immigration and rang up international students telling them that their visas were due to be terminated as there was some fault with the documents that the students originally submitted. The students were then asked to remit money to an account number and told that their visas would be sorted out. Fearing for their security a number of naïve students panicked and transferred money. This led to public announcements by the administration of Cornell University, Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts cautioning international students about this ‘immigration-scare fraud’.

    Points to Note for Students: 

    Government officials will never ask you for your passport number and social security number over the telephone or email. Do not share these details with anyone. If anyone stops and questions you directly ask for proper identification and speak to your university admissions officer. Students in the USA can register a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

    2. Tax Scam:

    According to the Treasury Department’s website, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a warning to taxpayers to beware of phone calls from individuals claiming to represent the IRS in an effort to defraud them.

    Please be advised that the IRS usually first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.
    The callers who commit this fraud often:

    • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.

    • Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.

    • Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.

    • Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.

    • Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

    If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do:

    • If you owe Federal taxes or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
    • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
    • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.

    3. Shady Scholarship Agents:

    A scholarship can come in extremely handy for students to meet some of their tuition fees expenses. Most scholarships are offered by educational institutions, the government and private philanthropists and charitable organizations. Be wary of scholarship agents who approach you promising to secure a huge scholarship for you if you pay them a certain percentage of money up-front. These are unscrupulous crooks who seek to cheat unsuspecting and gullible students. 

    Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit or excellence in a specific field like sports, music, dance, etc. Scholarships offered by genuine awarding bodies do not chase students asking them to pay money up-front. Hence be wary of any scholarship agent who promises to secure huge sums of money to fund your studies.

    4. Study Loan Agents:

    Similar to the shady scholarship agents mentioned in the previous point there are numerous ‘bank-agents’ who promise to secure bank loans to unsuspecting students. These individuals promise low rates of interest and extended loan-repayment tenures for a significant fee that has to be paid up front. Please be wary of such shady operators. In India, the banking system has evolved to a credible level of transparency and there are dedicated efforts to offer study loans to deserving students.

    5. Students Accommodation:

    Most students’ secure on-campus accommodation where there is minimal cause to worry; at the most, a mouse or spider may scare you! Students opting for off-campus accommodation options should be very careful and only opt for certified and authorized accommodation options or home-stay options that are certified by the University. A couple of years ago a ‘housing scam’ gained notoriety with many Asian students being duped by an elaborate ‘con’. Students were fooled by attractive looking images on a website operated by the scammer and paid deposits only to land in the USA and discover no such accommodation option existed in reality. A variation of this scam was when actual houses and flats were there but belonged to someone else and the owners had no clue on how their houses/flats got listed for rent. 

    6. Visa Fraud starts:

    These are the sixth type of scams that you might face - the 'silent killers' - visa frauds. On Friday, 21st Oct'16, there was a news that the Immigration NZ (INZ) has found that the number of visa fraud cases have increased from 75 cases in April to 640 cases by August. Most of the students who were deported applied through agents who turned out to be masterminds behind this fraud game. 

    Labour's Immigration spokesman said he wants to publicize the names of those New Zealand institutions that are using fraudulent agents. 'If we knew the names of the providers, I think it would change the behavior of those providers very quickly', Mr. Lees-Galloway said.

    7. Diversity Visa - Program Scammers Sending Fraudulent Emails and Letters: 

    The Department of State, Office of Visa Services, advises the public of a notable increase in fraudulent emails and letters sent to Diversity Visa (DV) program (Visa Lottery) applicants. The scammers behind these fraudulent emails and letters are posing as the U.S. government in an attempt to extract payment from DV applicants. All applicants should be familiar with information about DV scams provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Applicants are encouraged to review the rules and procedures for the DV program so that you know what to expect, when to expect it, and from whom. 

    While DV applicants may receive an email from the U.S. government reminding them to check their status online through DV Entrant Status Check, they will not receive a notification letter or email informing them that they are a successful DV entrant. Applicants can only find out if they were selected to continue with DV processing by checking their status online through the DV Entrant Status Check at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov.

    Finally, remember that fees for the DV application process are paid to the U.S. Embassy or consulate cashier at the time of your scheduled appointment. The U.S. government will never ask you to send payment in advance by check, money order, or wire transfer.

  • Many other non-governmental websites (e.g., addresses ending with ".com," ".org" or ".net") provide legitimate and useful immigration and visa-related information and services. Regardless of the content of other websites, the Department of State does not endorse, recommend, or sponsor any information or material shown on these other websites. The information provided may not be correct or up-to-date, so should always be verified by consulting an official U.S. government source. Visa applicants are advised to be cautious in all dealings with companies that claim to offer any assistance in obtaining U.S. visas.

  • Some websites and emails try to mislead customers and members of the public into thinking they are official U.S. government websites. These websites are designed to appear official, and often have images of the U.S. flag, U.S. Capitol, White House, or Statue of Liberty. What these websites and emails are missing is the “.gov” suffix on their addresses.  Remember that anything that does not end with “.gov” should be considered suspect.