Avoiding scams and fraud

July 1, 2020


An unfortunate but continuing trend is the increase in the number of phone and email scams targeting international students. This year, several MU students received phone calls from people impersonating the police, a law enforcement agency or a representative of a U.S. government agency. It is important to be vigilant for these scams so you will not become a victim.

Phone scams

Phone scams can be very deceptive because they use a process called caller ID spoofing, which is technology that modifies a phone number to appear as a different one. The phone number you see might belong to an actual agency or organization, but the number is being used falsely and the person on the phone is not a legitimate representative of that agency or organization.

Scammers use many different scenarios, often telling the victim that they owe money (for tuition, unpaid taxes, arrest warrants, etc.) and demand immediate payment by pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. The callers can become very aggressive, and threaten victims with arrest, deportation or dismissal from the university. Other scenarios involve awarding random scholarships that require you to pay a processing or application fee. Scammers often access victims’ personal information through social networking platforms, which can make them seem very convincing.

U.S. government and law enforcement agencies will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment. This can be intimidating, but remember it is a scam and not a real threat.
  • Demand that you pay taxes or debt without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Use email, text messaging or any social media to discuss your personal financial or tax issues.

If you receive a scam call, hang up immediately. Do not talk to the caller or provide any information. Report the call to the MU Police Department (573-882-7201) or Columbia Police Department (573-874-7652).

Phishing scams

Scammers may also try to get your personal information through phishing emails. These emails try to trick you into giving your personal information, like passwords or credit card numbers. You should never reply or click on a link in a message that asks for personal information. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number that you know to be legitimate.

If you receive a suspicious email, send the message as an attachment to MU’s Department of Information Technology at abuse@missouri.edu. More information about phishing scams is available on DoIT’s website.

If you have been a victim of a scam

If you have paid or released personal information to a scammer, follow these steps.

  • Inform the police — call the non-emergency number:
    • MU Police Department (573-882-7201)
    • Columbia Police Department (573-874-7652)
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • File a complaint through the Missouri Attorney General’s hotline (800-392-8222).
  • Alert your ISSS adviser.

Additional resources