A recent phone scam targets international students


Using a practice known as “caller ID spoofing,” callers can alter the number that appears on a caller ID display and make the call appear to come from anywhere the scammer wants.

Mia Wang

In the past few months, a series of phone scams have been aiming at Iowa State international students. The callers often threaten to deport or arrest students unless immediate payment is made.

International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) sent out a mass email titled “IMPORTANT: AVOID SCAMS!” to all Iowa State international students on Monday.

In the email, it states “unfortunately, a number of international students have become victims of phone scams over the last few years, sometimes cheating students out of thousands of dollars! Please don’t let this happen to you!”

In most cases, scam callers make phone calls directly to students claiming they are with the police department, U.S. government or the international students’ home government.

Zhen Yan graduated from Iowa State in August. He got a phone call informing him about an urgent package from the Chinese consulate. Yan said he was 90 percent sure it was a scam; however, he made the decision to hang up the phone and dial it back.

“I soon found out Chinese consulate’s operating hours start at 9 a.m.,” Yan said. “I got the call around 8:30, so I knew right then and there the call is not real.”

Xiao Tang, senior in design, said he received multiple scam calls last week. The calls were from a number with a Chicago area code, and they all started with automatic messages in Mandarin.

“It wasn’t a real person speaking,” Tang said. “It’s a pre-recorded message saying they have an important notification for me from the Chinese consulate, and if I don’t get the notification on time, there will be consequences.”

Tang said he knew they were scam calls because one of his professors received a similar phone call during a class period.

“I think the callers are targeting international students, but they don’t know which numbers actually belong to us,” Tang said. “A professor of mine got the same phone call. He put his phone on speaker and asked us if anyone knows what the person on the phone is saying because the message is in Chinese.”

Anthony Greiter, Iowa State University police officer, said the callers manipulate students’ emotions when they make the scam calls.

“When international students hear a language they are familiar with, they are going to believe it a little more,” Greiter said.

Greiter said that callers utilize fears international students have surrounding immigration policies. If they are able to cause fear and anxiety in students, they get leverage to scam money.

“International students are far from home, and they have a lot to lose,” Greiter said. “They are under special circumstances to study here, and deportation means more to them than domestic students.”

In its email, ISSO also gave tips to international students on how to distinguish scam calls.

“It is a scam if:

-They say they threaten you with deportation or arrest and say you must pay them in iTunes gift cards.

-They repeatedly tell you not to hang up or they will come to your house.

-They say they are from the US government and you must pay a fine to avoid deportation/arrest.

-They say they are from the IRS and you did not pay enough in taxes and you must pay now (The IRS will never call you on the phone).”

Greiter said because of all the levels of safety the callers have on their numbers; it would be extremely difficult to locate and arrest them. If they are in another country, the U.S. law enforcement doesn’t have the authority to enforce the law.

“What we can do is to write a report, and victims can take this report to the bank and try to get their money back,” Greiter said.