Cell phone scam profits off curiosity

URBANA, Ill. (WAND) – A U of I employee was scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars, prompting a warning from police.

Officers said a scammer called the university worker and, while claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, told them their Social Security number was compromised. The caller said the victim had an outstanding arrest warrant out of Texas and added that it would be canceled if the victim gave them money via bitcoin. The victim was told to withdraw cash from area banks and transfer it using bitcoin ATMs in central Illinois.

Police said the employee believed he was speaking was with the SSA and then police, even though the callers were not who they claimed they were. The call came from somewhere completely different than what showed up on his caller ID. He lost about $69,000.

Police are reminding U of I students to be wary of scams that might target them by phone or online. The person answering the call might be threatened with arrest, and the scammer might claim to represent police or a government official.

In past scams, callers claiming to be immigration officials or Internal Revenue Service workers demanded payment in gift cards or virtual currency.

In their words, U of I officers said the following should be red flags that a call might be a scam:

  • No government official will ever demand money over the phone. If someone claims to be a police officer, immigration official, a tax agent, or any other government representative demanding money, the call is likely a scam.
  • Never give out bank account information, credit card numbers, or your Social Security number to someone who you do not know. Scammers may trick you into giving them this information unwillingly. Always verify someone's identity and that they are from a legitimate organization before you give them personal information.
  • Often, scammers will demand payment in the form of something other than cash. If a caller directs you to purchase gift cards or transfer payment in the form of virtual currency, the call is likely a scam.
  • Scammers try to intimidate victims with empty threats of arrest or deportation. If a caller threatens to have you arrested if you hang up, the call is likely a scam.
  • Sometimes, scammers will direct you to visit a series of banks to withdraw cash. Scammers know that withdrawing large amounts of cash raises red flags for bank employees, so they will direct the victim to visit a number of banks to withdraw smaller amounts.
  • Scammers often “spoof” phone numbers of legitimate agencies. Number “spoofing” makes the victim’s caller ID display a legitimate phone number even though the call is originating from somewhere entirely different. If you have doubts about a caller’s identity, you should hang up and call the listed number for that agency to speak to a representative.

Police said anyone who takes a scam call should hang up and call police. The U of I Police Department can be reached at any hour for non-emergencies at (217)333-1216.