WARNING – Beware of Phone/Email Scams

December 13, 2018

BEWARE OF SCAMS

The ISO wanted to remind all members of the MIT community to beware of being a target of a scam, whether by email, phone, or by postal mail.  The holidays are a common period given that we may be buying items more frequently – and scammers take advantage of this time.

In recent weeks, we have heard from students and colleagues who have been contacted by a few common scams, so we wanted to provide a warning to you about the following scam scenarios:

  • Call by phone from an individual claiming they are from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or local police department, indicating that the student did not pay all required taxes and had to pay right away or be deported (usually they ask the student to pay by gift cards – a good sign that it is a scam).  Also, the IRS will not contact about tax issues by phone (and local police will never contact about tax issues).
  • A student and a staff member indicated they received a call from an individual claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, and that due to suspicious activity their Social Security Number would be blocked and that they needed to provide some personal information over the phone.  This is a scam. 
  • Colleagues from another school informed us of a scam targeting Chinese students, where the caller speaks in Mandarin and claims problems with the student’s visa and attempts to convince the student to wire money and give personal information. 
  • In many cases, the caller ID has been able to show a number that appears to be legitimate (Social Security Administration, Cambridge Police Department).  It is very easy to edit caller ID to say one thing and the actual number calling is actually not those offices. 
  • Amazon recently was the subject of a scam where an email indicates an “issue” with a recent order, and clicking on a link in the email takes individuals to a webpage that looks almost identical to the Amazon webpage.  A news reporting of the scam is here.   Individuals are advised not to click on emails but rather go directly to login to the official Amazon page and check on orders in that manner.  Amazon also has a page on its website about how to identify legitimate contacts from Amazon via email

We hope this information is helpful.  If you do receive a contact from someone indicating they are from a government agency, please take the following steps to protect yourself as it is likely a scam:

  • FIRST, do NOT provide ANY information about yourself over the phone or by email, for identity-protection purposes.
  • SECOND, if contacted by phone or in person, remain calm and ask the person for as many details as possible. For example, their name, government ID number or badge number, their phone number, what branch of the government they work for, and the reason for why they are contacting you. Indicate that you will be happy to contact them again after you speak to an ISO advisor.  Legitimate government agency representatives would allow you to hang up the phone, contact your ISO Advisor, and then respond to the agency.  If they continue to harass you or tell you not to hang up the phone, please hang up the phone.  If you are being contacted by email, do not respond to the email.
  • THIRD, contact the ISO immediately. We can help you determine if the official is legitimate or if it's a scam.  We may also advise you to contact MIT Campus Police to file a report about this contact. 

Please also see more from a posting on Scams we sent to students this past spring for more information and strategies for dealing with Scams -- http://iso.mit.edu/news/warning-%E2%80%93-beware-phoneemail-scams-0.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the ISO by phone (617-253-3795) or via email (iso-help@mit.edu).​

For more information about scams, there are a number of resources:

If you believe you have been the victim of an immigration services scam, please notify the ISO immediately; and you can also report this scam to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.