October 15, 2014

Scam Targeting International Cornellians Persists, Police Say

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Scams targeting Cornellians — especially international students — since the beginning of the semester have not ended, according to Cornell Police.

Members of the Cornell community are reportedly receiving calls from a scammer claiming to be a law enforcement officer, a tax official or other government agent, CUPD Deputy Chief David Honan said. The caller — who in some cases has used a application that falsely displays the caller ID of actual departments’ number — advises victims to pay a fee to avoid deportation or arrest.

“International students from areas where bribery among officials is common are most vulnerable to the scams that have been reported by a variety of students and staff since the beginning of the semester,” said Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner. “People with these backgrounds may understandably be afraid to report the fraud to us as we have asked in earlier outreach.”

Shivang Tayal ’16, vice president for diversity and inclusion and international liaison at large for the Student Assembly, said he has heard from multiple victims that they were asked to make a tax-related payment — sometimes called an “international students education tax.”

The caller seems to know specific details about the students, including their class year, Tayal said. In at least two known cases, victims have been asked to pay between $500 to $1,400.

“Though there appear to be differences … this [scam] appears to be a continuation of the same scam” that has been reported since the beginning of the semester, Honan said. In those instances, the caller also threatened students with arrest, The Sun previously reported.

Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office, said “a few” international students have fallen victim to the scam, which is not isolated to Cornell.

Colorado State University and the University of Minnesota are among several universities who have reportedly been affected by the scams. These other incidents have not been confirmed to be perpetrated by the same caller.

The scam is more “sophisticated” than previous ones and is one of the first to specifically target international students, according to O’Brien. The scam is “just one more challenge” that international students face, he added.

“This is just really unfortunate because international students make such a great contribution to Cornell, and it’s a shame that people are trying take advantage of them. We want to work with the Cornell Police to do everything we can to prevent other international students from being victimized by this scam,” O’Brien said.

Cornell Police and ISSO are spreading the word about the scam and letting students know that they should contact the police if they receive calls from someone claiming to be a police officer.

“We would like to again remind the community that real law enforcement agencies do not call asking that money be wired to them,” Honan said. “These calls have been occurring on and off campus. If you suspect you are being scammed, do not provide any further information, hang up and report this to your local police department.”