International students: beware of fake phone calls about your immigration status

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Published April 4, 2019 This content is archived.

Have you received a threatening call from someone claiming to be from the U.S. government, telling you there is a problem with your immigration documents or visa renewal and that you must pay them immediately to avoid arrest or deportation? Hang up the phone—it is a scam.

This scam has already targeted international students at UB. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. government agency, these scams are quite common.

“We’ve been getting reports that foreign students, particularly from South Asian countries, are getting phone calls that look like they’re from the government,” says Rosario Méndez, an attorney with the FTC. “The caller typically knows about a student’s immigration status and the program or school they’re attending.”

“He’ll say there’s a problem with the student’s immigration documents or visa renewal. And then he’ll demand immediate payment, often thousands of dollars, for a fee or bogus immigration bond.”

The callers often make threats, including arrest and deportation, if the student is unwilling to pay. They also typically request payment using gift cards (like Google Play or iTunes), or cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin).

How do I know this is a scam?

There are several signs that these phone calls are a scam:

  • Over the phone: business with the federal government, especially related to your legal status in the U.S., is almost always done in writing or in person, and not over the telephone.
  • Requires immediate payment: you will also typically be notified in advance (usually by writing) if you owe any money to the U.S. government, and will be given a date in the future when the payment is due.
  • Payment with gift cards or cryptocurrency: these callers often require you to pay with either gift cards (like Google Play or iTunes) or cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin). Neither are acceptable forms of payment for official government business. Gift cards and cryptocurrency are two forms of payment preferred by scammers, because it is easy for them to take this payment and disappear without being tracked.

How can I be sure?

If you receive a call like this, and are still concerned that there is a problem with your immigration status, you can call USCIS’s National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Méndez also recommends talking to someone you trust in your community about the call.

“Several people report that they figured out the call was a scam after talking with a relative, the local police, or a school official. It’s likely that others in your community got the same call, so talking about the call could help others in your area.

Stay safe

For more tips about staying safe from common scams targeting students, visit