Office of International Student & Scholar Services


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glossaryKeywordsTypes of scamsSocial media scamsScams that involve US government officesCOVID-19 related scamsWatch OIC's Scam VideoCountry or culture specificIs there anything that looks like a scam but isn't? Additional resources


  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC):  Protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity (from FTC's website).
  • Fraud: intentional perversion of truth, deceiving or misrepresenting in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • Hoax:  to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS): the IRS is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury that helps taxpayers meet their tax responsibilities and enforces tax law (from  About IRS).
  • Phishing: the use of email and fraudulent web sites to trick people into disclosing personal financial or identity information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, user names, passwords and addresses. Get more information about phishing from The University of Akron's Office of Information Security.
  • Porting: a scammer gets your name and phone number, then gathers other identifiable information that can be used for identity theft. Pretending to be you, they then contact your mobile provider to report your phone as stolen or lost, and ask for the number to be "ported" to another provider and device. They can use your number to gain access to your financial accounts and other services with two-factor authentication enabled (from Federal Communications Commission's Scam Glossary).   
  • Robocall: a telephone call from an automated source that delivers a prerecorded message to a large number of people.  They are often on behalf of a political party or a telemarketing company. (from Merriam-Webster dictionary). 
  • Scam: a fraudulent (fraud) or deceptive (deceit) act or operation (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • Scammer: a person who commits fraud or participates in a dishonest scheme (for more information, visit The University of Akron).
  • Spam: The term "spam" is internet slang that refers to unsolicited commercial email (UCE) (Learn more at U.S. Department of Justice).
  • Spoofing: is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Get more information about spoofing at Federal Communications Commission (FTC).
  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA):  requires multiple layers of security to gain access to private information.  For more information, visit U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.


Types of Scams

  • Identity theft and Email/Phishing Scams

Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. The thief may use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or obtain medical services. They may use your name and/or image to create fake profiles on social media. This can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.

  • Be cautious of phishing attempts that use email, text messages, or social media to try to get your personal information.
  • Exercise caution when clicking on links or opening attachments that you do not fully trust.
  • Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, just hang up. Do not rely on caller ID to verify the caller.

Social media scams

Be cautious of friend requests from people you do not know: they may be fake accounts trying to gain access to your photos, and other personal information. Do not engage with an account that seems questionable.

Other common social media scams:

  • Fake games and quizzes that may include hidden charges or mask phishing
  • Phishing requests
  • Hidden URLs
  • Chain letters
  • Cash grabs

Get more information on common social media scams at Norton.

Scams that involve U.S. government offices

Law enforcement scams (including immigration)

Immigration scams can unfortunately take place even before you arrive in the USA.

  • “Many temporary visitors turn to visa consultants before scheduling their interviews. While some consultants provide helpful information, many do not. …  As part of their “services,” Consultants sometimes sell fake financial packages or encourage parents wishing to visit U.S.-based children to lie about the number or location of their other children. In both of these scenarios, applicants have been found permanently ineligible for visas because they provided false information during interviews.” No visa consultant can 100% guarantee you will receive a visa (from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi).
  • In addition, all visa applicants are advised to be cautious of other websites that claim to collect I-901 SEVIS fees. 
  • Scammers may pretend to be from ICE, USCIS, SEVP, another government agency, or even your local police department. They may spoof legitimate phone numbers (See an example of a scam that spoofed SEVP at Homeland Security's Study in the States). 
  • They may threaten you or your family’s immigration status. They may say you need to update your Alien Registration Number, or perhaps there is an issue with your I-94, or your I-20/DS-2019.  They will tell you that you need to pay a fine or purchase gift cards in order to resolve your “issue." This is a scam. If you are concerned that this might be legitimate, contact your International Office BEFORE making any payments so they can look into your case.
  • The only legitimate way to pay immigration fees to USCIS is through your USCIS online account and  The U.S. government does not accept gift cards as payment.
  • They may tell you that you won the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program, also known as the Visa Lottery. The State Department will never send you an email about being selected, and there are no fees associated with applying. 
  • Some scammers may offer you “special access” to USCIS services for a fee. This could include filing or re-filing for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and expediting a visa, green card, or work permit. USCIS has no exceptions to the normal processing times and no one can obtain these services faster than the usual process. Check case processing times online at USCIS.
  • See some common immigration-related scams at USCIS.

Tax scams

These are generally are most prevalent during tax season (March and April, but can happen at any time).

  • Scammers claim to be from the IRS and tell you that you owe a “federal student tax." There is no such thing as a “federal student tax."  Find more information about this fake tax at IRS.
  • Other scammers will send an email claiming to have information about your tax refund or about the money you owe. All you need to do is click on a link to get more information. 
  • Remember, you cannot pay any tax owed to the U.S. Government by sending gift cards. If you owe money or if the IRS needs to contact you, they will send you a letter first.

Social security scams

A scammer may call, using a spoofed number from the Social Security Administration (SSA), to tell you that your social security number has been suspended either due to suspicious activity or because it was involved in a crime. They may ask you to confirm your social security number.

  • SSA will never call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. This is a scam.
  • If you’re worried about what the caller says, hang up and call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to the real SSA. Even if the wait time is long, confirm with the real SSA before responding to one of these calls.
  • Do not give out or confirm your personal or financial information to someone who calls. Be very cautious about sharing your social security number (or bank account, or credit card number) with anyone. 

Bonus: hear an example of a social security scam at FTC's Consumer Advice.

Financial scams 

Many financial scams are robocalls or texts that claim to be from a name-brand company (often Amazon, Apple, or Google) or from a government agency. 

  • The scammer may offer you a free cruise, cheap health insurance, to renew your car warranty, or offer you a low-interest loan. They sometimes claim you've won a lottery or prize.  See more at AARP.
  • How can you win a prize if you didn’t enter the contest? (Or, have a car warranty if you do not own a car? Or, how can you return a product you did not buy?)
  • Often they will tell you to press a particular key to learn more or to get off a call list. 
  • Whatever the message, don’t engage. Even just pressing a key or answering a question alerts scammers that they’ve hit on a “live” number, and they’ll call it again and again.
  • Robocalls are illegal for the most part. You should just hang up.

Employment scams

Scammers advertise jobs just as real employers do. Sometimes they even use faked company letterhead and pretend to be legitimate employers. 

  • Unsolicited job offers are often scams, especially those that offer to hire you without an interview or even pay you before you have done any work. Get more information at FTC's Consumer Advice
  • A company "representative" tells you they require a copy of your passport and EAD card as part of the onboarding process. See more at Better Business Bureau
  • A company may send a check as another part of the onboarding process, but the check is counterfeit. 
  • A scammer offers employment through a staffing agency, but only if you are willing to pay $800 for an offer letter and/or $600 for a training program. 
  • Be very cautious of offers like this: not only are the scammers attempting to steal your money but also your identity.

Unfortunately, scammers sometimes take advantage of students who are looking for OPT jobs. To avoid these:

  • Do thorough research on any company, especially one where the process seems too easy. Check the Better Business Bureau.
  • Do your research to decide if the job is “too good to be true."
  • Do not pay for an OPT job acceptance letter (they cannot charge you for an official document they are required by law to file in order to hire you).
  • Use reputable sites for your job search, including visiting your University’s Career Center.

COVID-19 related scams

It is unfortunate that scammers have taken advantage of the continually changing COVID-19 situation. Common COVID-19 scams are related to:

  • Coronavirus relief funds
  • Various treatments for COVID-19, including vaccines, and clinical trials
  • Financial scams often related to rent, paying bills, funerals, and unemployment benefits
  • Contact tracing

The FTC has a very extensive list of known COVID-19 scams. If you receive a phone call, email, or text you can review this list and see if it has been flagged. You can even search by state to see which COVID-19 scams are most active in your area. See the FTC's list of COVID-19 scams or search by state.

In order to protect yourself from identity theft, do not post your COID-19 vaccination card online. For more information, go to FTC's Consumer Advice.

OIC's "Protecting Yourself from Scams as an International Student in the U.S."OIC's Scam Video



Country- or culture-specific scams

These are often (but not always) China or India specific as these countries have lots of students studying in the USA. They may take the form of social media scams that target your family at home or may spoof an official U.S. government account. 

Alternately, some country/culture specific scams take advantage of words that sound the same but actually mean different things in different cultures.

  • USCIS lists a common email scam that spoofs the USCIS New Delhi Field Office or the Department of State in India. This email may include fake attachments and links. See the USCIS list.
  • USCIS also provides examples of a Notarios Publicos scam that takes advantage of the differences between a Notary Public in the U.S. (someone who can witness the signing of documents, etc.) and a Notario in some Spanish-speaking countries (a lawyer). See the examples at USCIS.

Is there anything that looks like a scam but isn't?

Selective Service

Selective Service is something that looks like a scam but is NOT. It is important to know that the Selective Service System is legitimate. You may receive a letter from the Selective Service System which appears to say you have been signed up to join the US Military. You have not, but this is a legitimate letter and should not be ignored.  For more information, visit Selective Service System.

  • Read the letter carefully: it includes instructions for international students to verify their non-immigrant status and their exemption from this process.

Letters from the IRS or your bank

The IRS sends official letters and notices out by U.S. mail. They do not contact people by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information. If you receive an email, text, or phone call from the IRS, it is most likely a scam. (from Ten Things to Know about IRS Notices and Letters)

Your bank too, will generally communicate with you only by letter unless you have scheduled a specific phone call or email communication with them.

  • Do not believe scammers who say that a letter was sent to you but was returned as undeliverable and that you can “take care of the issue” over the phone.
  • How to avoid scams: Practice some of these easy steps to help you avoid falling for scams
    • EDUCATE yourself about scams at FTC's Scam Alerts
    • CHECK messages for spelling and grammatical errors. While legitimate communications may sometimes include one or two spelling mistakes, scams are generally known for including multiple. Does the “from” name match the email address?
    • READ all communications put out by your University’s International Office.  Many universities include information about scams in newsletters and on social media, so you can be alert to scammers operating in your area.
    • ASK yourself the following questions before sending anyone information/money. If you answered YES, then it is likely a scam.
  • Does the US government really want Walmart gift cards? (From The University of Akron)
  • Are they pretending to contact me on behalf of the government? (from FTC)
  • Are they telling me that I am in trouble with the government? Or that I owe money? (from FTC)
  • Are they pressuring me to act immediately? (from FTC)
    • You CAN be rude: Don’t be afraid to hang up the call!
    • ASK for contact information and say you’ll get back to them...
    • PRACTICE Internet safety. This is how:
      • Don’t share personal information (SSN, date of birth, address, bank or credit card number). 
      • Be wary of trolls, be cautious of online relationships with people you don't know (even if they speak your language)
      • Internet Safety 101: update your devices (check compatibility with university systems before implementing any updates!); strong passwords (update regularly); watch for phishing; protect your personal info; use a secure internet connection; shop safely

            (from The University of Akron)

  • STOP and tell someone you trust: Reach out to your international office, a friend, or a family member (from FTC).

Report scams and fraud:

How to report:

  • Contact the International Office at your university, especially if you are not sure if something is a scam. It’s always better to ask than be sorry after you have lost your money or had your identity stolen. They can help you double check if something is legitimate. They can also alert other students so they are not caught out by the same scam.
  • Contact your University Policy Department or local police department. This may depend on your university.
  • Report any unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices at Federal Trade Commission.
  • Report Immigration benefit fraud and abuse to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Fraud Tip Form.
  • Report suspicious criminal activity (Cyber Crimes, Terrorism, Intellectual Property Rights Violations, Document and Benefit Fraud) on Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line.
  • Report issues of fraud, immigration scams, and the unauthorized practice of immigration law at Immigration Fraud and Abuse Prevention Program.
  • Identity theft and consumer complaints at Ohio Attorney General – Consumer Protection.
  • Report Social Security Fraud at Social Security Administration.
  • Report illegal robocalls to the following places:
    • FCC (online or at 888-225-5322)
    • FTC (online or at 877-382-4357).
    • Also, put your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry.  This will not stop fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers will not call numbers on the Registry. Do Not Call Registry

Additional Resources


Last Updated: 3/22/23