Phone, Email Scams Target Asian, Other BU Students
BUPD has important tips to avoid being victimized, warns community to be on their guard
Four scams in the last 10 days—one involving elaborate videoconferencing and caller ID spoofing—have defrauded BU students of thousands of dollars, in one case $150,000. The Boston University Police Department (BUPD) is strongly suggesting protective precautions by students.
“Some schemes are designed to capitalize on a fear of not cooperating with government authorities and many seem to target the Asian community,” the BUPD says in an email sent to the University community Thursday. Two of the incidents involved phone scammers claiming to be Chinese government officials.
All but one of the incidents involved phone calls. The fourth was a phishing email, purportedly from Walmart, offering the student a job and sending a phony check for $2,800 in exchange for money orders from the student.
“We urge all members of our community to be vigilant against theft and fraud,” the BUPD alert says. “Please take a moment to consider the possibility that a situation may be a scam or a fraud… We remind students that they should not enter into any financial transactions with unknown people online.”
Kelly Nee, BUPD police chief, says such scams “are pervasive and widespread throughout the country and the world. Although you may be ordered not to hang up, you must, and report it immediately [to BUPD] to protect yourself. We don’t want anyone to be embarrassed to come forward. We work with our local and federal partners, but these crimes are extremely difficult to solve and recover money [from] due to the international nature of the crimes.”
- September 6: An unknown person phoned a BU student, claimed to be from Amazon Services, and promised $1,800 for work as a “secret shopper” in exchange for $900 via a payment app, which the student forwarded. The student never received the promised pay.
- September 13: A phisher, purporting to be from Walmart, emailed a student about a job offer. The two exchanged texts before the phisher sent a $2,800 check, asked the student to send $2,500 in money orders and keep the difference as pay. The student complied, only to discover the check didn’t clear.
- September 14: A student got a call from an unknown person purporting to be a Chinese official, who accused the student of committing a crime and told them the only resolution was to wire money to an overseas location. The student wired $25,000.
- September 15: An unknown person purporting to be a Chinese official phoned another student, also accused them of being involved in a crime, and even concocted videoconferencing calls in an “elaborate ruse,” the BUPD says, featuring apparently uniformed individuals. The scammers also used caller ID information replicating actual Chinese embassy phone numbers. Demanding money to resolve the problem, the scammers received several payments from the student totaling $150,000.
The BUPD offers the following tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company you do business with. Do not send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request—whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.
Do online searches
Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
Don’t believe your caller ID
Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
Don’t pay up front for a promise
Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
Consider how you pay
Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky, because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true of cards (like MoneyPak or Reloadit) and gift cards (like iTunes or Google Play). Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
Talk to someone
Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert—or just tell a friend.
Hang up on robocalls
If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.
Be skeptical about free trial offers
Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
Don’t deposit a check and wire money back
By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
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Never rent without seeing the actual premises
Always sign a written lease that identifies the owner before sending money to hold an apartment.
If you are unsure if a communication is a fraud, you can call the BUPD for advice anytime at 617-353-2121 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach them by texting the word “BU” to (847411). You may also report phishing and potentially fraudulent emails to email@example.com. Examples of phishing messages can be found at BU Information Security’s Phish Bowl site. The University will never ask you for your password or to “click a link to verify your email address and/or identity” no matter how convincing the email may appear.