International students and scholars should be aware of and protect themselves scams and identity theft. Scams are essentially illegal attempts to convince someone to pay money or give up personal information and other items of value through deception and fraud. Scams happen everyday and have led to losses in the tens of thousands of dollars. However, by educating yourself, you can avoid becoming the victim of one.
Scams come in different varieties - they include immigration and visa scams, tax scams, Social Security scams, and apartment scams. Scammers also use different methods involving telephone calls, e-mail, mail, and other means. For international students and scholars, telephone scams are among the most common. Many telephone scams have the following features:
someone calls you and pretends to be an immigration officer, law enforcement officer, tax agent, Social Security official, other type of government official
the call seems very "real" - your CallerID may indicate that the caller has a government number
the person may use very threatening legal language and claim that you violated the law, lost your immigration status, or missed an important legal deadline
the caller demands that you pay a large fine immediately or face arrest, jail, or deportation
the caller insists that you must act immediately, and that you cannot contact your school, the International Center, or a lawyer, because they are "coming right now to arrest you"
the caller demands payment through unusual means, such as asking you to purchase gift cards, Bitcoin, send money by Western Union, or provide them with your bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers
Scammers are very sophisticated and can seem very real because they may have a surprising amount of information about you. However, US government agencies would almost never contact you over the phone in this way and would never demand "immediate" payment of money in order to avoid arrest or deportation.
Quick Tip: The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) will never call you directly about tax or Social Security matters. While it is possible you might be contacted by the US Department of Homeland Security or by the FBI, these direct contacts are extremely rare, and will never lead to a demand for money. Always get the caller's information and arrange to meet them at school. Contact the International Center and/or the Tufts University Police Department to assist you.
In all cases, if you receive a demand that seems surprising, shocking, and unexpected, it is likely a scam. Hang up and call the International Center at (617) 627-3458 or the Tufts University Police Department at (617) 627-3030. You can also report suspicious phone calls that might be scams directly to the Tufts University Police Department.
(!) Recent scams have expanded to include people pretending to be foreign government officers. If someone calls you and says that they are representing your home government, always ask for a number to call back and call your consulate or embassy to confirm.
Identity Theft and Phishing Scams
Identity theft and 'phishing' scams use email, text, and other techniques to steal your personal information - such as your name, date of birth, Social Security Number, address, credit card or bank account numbers, and other information - for illicit or illegal purposes. With this information, the scammers can open credit cards or accounts in your name or gain access to your own accounts.
The easiest way to avoid identity theft is to keep your personal information safe and secret.
Never give out your sensitive personal data, especially your date of birth and Social Security Number, over email
Never click on links in an email from a strange or untrusted source - be sure the person emailing you is a trusted account
Never give out your personal information over the phone except to trusted authorities
Never give out personal information, including your address, Social Security Number, or credit card or banking information over the phone or over email
Ask the caller to meet you at the International Center or your department or a local police station - if they hang up or refuse, it's a scam
Ask the caller for their name, badge number, and a phone number to call them back
If it feels like you are receiving a strange demand over the phone, email, or in person, call the International Center or the Tufts University Police Department - resist the demand to respond immediately
Above all DO NOT participate in the scam - hang up and block the number or delete the email