The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) and the Harvard International Office (HIO) wish to inform members of the community of potential scams, often targeting international affiliates, that may result in the loss of personal and/or financial information. These scams are typically initiated by telephone calls or emails in which the callers/senders claim to be U.S. government officials or law enforcement officers. Below please find relevant information regarding common scams and possible actions affiliates can take in the event they are contacted by potential scammers.
- Caller/sender claims to be a U.S. Immigration official and requests a payment of money (via wire transfer, debit/credit card information, or gift card purchase) or the sharing of personally identifying information under the threat of arrest or finding an immigration law violation.
- Caller/sender claims to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official and requests a payment of money (via wire transfer, debit/credit card information, or gift card purchase) or the sharing of personally identifying information in order to facilitate a tax return or under the threat of finding a tax law violation.
- Caller/Sender claims to be a law enforcement official and states that an affiliate is subject to an active warrant and requests a payment of money (via wire transfer, debit/credit card information, or gift card purchase) in order to avoid or resolve an alleged criminal issue.
- An affiliate is approached or contacted by an unknown individual with a request to cash a check or transfer funds with the promise of payment in return for the affiliate’s assistance.
- Rental scammers advertise apartments that either do not exist or are not available and request an affiliate wire money (security deposit or first month rent) prior to meeting in-person, signing a lease, or viewing the apartment.
Commons Characteristics of Scams
- Caller/sender does not identify themselves or claims association with a government organization/department (IRS, law enforcement, Department of State).
- Caller/sender demands affiliate to act quickly.
- Caller/sender notifies affiliate of concerning information of which the affiliate was not previously aware (problem with taxes, immigration status, active warrant).
- Caller wants affiliate to stay on a phone line as long as possible.
- Caller/sender demands affiliate not end the conversation or email thread.
- Caller/sender applies fear, threats, or intimidation in order to receive personal information or money.
- Caller/sender uses legal terminology (cites federal immigration regulations or other provisions of state, federal, or local law) to sound as legitimate as possible.
- Caller/sender may be aware of affiliate’s name, number, or address.
- Caller/sender wants affiliate to wire money or share personally identifying information (address, Social Security Number, date of birth, debit/credit card numbers).
- Caller/sender requests payment in cash or by gift card.
- Caller/sender prohibits affiliate from notifying other individuals of the situation
Steps to Take If You Receive a Scam Telephone Call/Email
- Monitor calls/email for potential scams from unknown callers/sender.
- If you suspect the caller/sender is attempting to commit a scam, hang up or do not respond. If the caller/sender claims to be a government official, you should contact HIO, which can work with HUPD as needed to verify the caller/sender’s credentials.
- Do not wire or promise money to an unknown caller/sender.
- Do not agree to meet with an unknown caller/sender. If the caller/sender claims to be a government official, you should contact HIO, which can work with HUPD as needed to verify the caller/sender’s credentials.
- Do not share any personally identifying information or financial information.
- If you feel unsafe or threatened, call the HUPD at 617-495-1212.
Important Knowledge Regarding Scams
- U.S. Government (IRS, Immigration/Citizenship Services, and Department of State) officials will never ask for prepaid gift cards or debit/credit card information over the telephone.
- U.S. Government (IRS, Immigration/Citizenship Services, and Department of State) officials will never request immediate payment over the telephone.
- Law enforcement officials will never request payment in order to resolve a warrant or criminal issue.
- Affiliates are cautioned when using informal means to locate housing (Craigslist, Facebook, or Reddit). Affiliates are strongly encouraged to utilize the Off-Campus Housing website in order to locate rental properties.
External Resources for More Information
- Federal Trade Commission for Rental Scams
- Federal Trade Commission Information for Avoiding Scams
- U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website on Common Scams
- Federal Trade Commission to Report Identity Theft
- Harvard International Office regarding housing