Looking Out for Scams

How to Avoid Being a Victim

Scams are crimes in which someone tricks a victim into giving them money or property using deception or fraud.

Types of Scams

The following are several types of scams that the WashU Police Department has seen that have targeted WashU students:

  • IRS Scam With this type of scam, a call is placed to a student by someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. taxing authority in the U.S. The caller typically claims that the IRS is about to take some type of punitive or legal action against the victim unless they immediately wire money to a certain address or bank account. Of course, the caller is not actually from the IRS, but is a scammer trying to swindle the victim out of their money.
  • Employment Scam According to Detective Davis, employment scams involve someone contacting a job seeker with a job offer. The scammer will offer to send the victim an advance payment before any work is done. The scammer may tell the victim to keep a percentage of the deposit and send the rest of the money on to a different address. The scammer may be using the victim as a go-between for illegal transactions or may be trying to gain access to the victim’s money.
  • Ransom Scam In this case, the scammer calls and claims to be holding a victim’s family member or other loved one hostage. The scammer demands that money be wired to a certain bank account immediately or the loved one will be harmed or killed. Detective Davis says that he has dealt with two such ransom cases on campus: “Each time we were able to get hold of that parent or whoever the loved one was and say, ‘Are you OK?’ and then they kind of figured out that it was a scam that the student was being targeted on.” In both cases, no actual kidnapping had taken place.
  • Online Trading Scams Online trading sites like Craigslist and Offerup are also sometimes used in scams or robberies. Sergeant Wayne says the WashU Police Department has seen quite a few crimes that have been carried out using such websites, for example, “where a student arranges through the website to buy a phone or something and as soon as they meet the other person and produce the money, the other person grabs the money and runs away. Or they may be given what looks like a phone, but it doesn’t work or it’s only an empty phone case.”

Red Flags or Warning Signs that someone might be trying to scam you Some warning signs can tip you off that someone may be trying to scam you. If someone contacts you with an opportunity or a situation that requires you to make a payment, consider that it may be someone trying to scam you. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Follow Your Instincts Detective Davis recommends following your initial instincts: “If you just follow your first instinct, and if it just doesn’t sound right, it’s probably NOT right.”
  • Too Good to Be True If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Especially with unsolicited job offers that offer payment even before any work begins.
  • Time Sensitive Demands Most of the scams have very time sensitive demands. Scammers will demand payment right away. This works to a scammer’s advantage because their chance of success decreases if victims have time to think about the situation or to talk to the authorities. Detective Davis advises that “if you’re ever under the pressure of being rushed to do something right now… that’s probably a good indicator that it’s a scam… that’s a red flag to kind of slow down” and talk to someone else about the situation.

How to protect yourself from scams

  • Contact the Police If you think someone may be trying to scam you, reach out and contact somebody, ideally the police. The WashU Police are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sergeant Wayne recommends that “If it doesn’t sound right, talk to us (WashU Police) or talk to somebody. Preferably us, because we have a little bit more experience with these types of things. But if it’s not us, talk to an OISS adviser or someone about it. Say, ‘Hey does this sound right to you? What do you think?’ Again, just talk about it before making a decision.” Detective Davis adds, “WashU Police Department is available 24/7. We are very welcoming and accommodating to the campus community. We’ll never turn anyone away from our doors. We’re going to talk to you, and we’re going to help you the best that we can.”
  • Use the Police Lobby for Craigslist Transactions The Washington University Police Department encourages students to use the police department’s lobby as a meeting place for transactions set up through Craigslist or other online trading sites. Sergeant Wayne points out that “[the WashU Police Department’s] lobby is open and manned 24 hours a day and also has cameras, so we always have reference to it. We always suggest that our lobby is the place to do any transactions that you’re doing like that. If it’s something like you’re buying a car off the internet, people can go to the WashU Police Department website, and contact the police department, and we can give them advice. We might even arrange for an officer to sit by in an area somewhere if it’s like a car purchase on one of our parking lots or something. We obviously don’t want to be involved in the transaction, but we can be there to monitor it.”
  • Check Your Bank Accounts Regularly Check your banking information on a regular basis to make sure no unauthorized transactions have occurred.
  • Report Suspected Fraud/Scams in a Timely Manner Detective Davis says: “Normally with fraud cases, if we’re notified early on, we can stop it before any losses occur. Reporting in a timely manner is important. We get a lot of delayed reports. You may be really busy with your studies or other things, but you need to take the time to come and report it to us so that we can hopefully get ahead of the problem rather than trying to catch up when it might be too late… We try to reach out to victims and see how we can help out, but timely reporting is very important.” Sergeant Wayne pointed out that even if you think it might be too late to get your money back, it’s still important to report the incident to the police: “Even if you think it might be too late to get your money back, let us know to help educate and prevent it from happening to somebody else on campus. Then we can let everyone else know about the type of incident that happened. We can put it up on our website: ‘Everyone be careful. This is going on,’ so that hopefully we can prevent the same thing happening to someone else.”

Contact the Washington University Police Department Phone: 314-935-5555

Rental Housing Scams

Many international students and scholars lease and sublet apartments in the St. Louis area. While most people have no problems, it is important for those who are seeking to rent an apartment (or sublease an apartment) to be careful and wary of possible scams. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, there are three primary ways to know whether or not an apartment rental opportunity or inquiry is a scam:

    1. They want you to wire money. This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee or first month’s rent. Wiring money is the same as sending cash – once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
    2. They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the landlord and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue that it may be a scam.
    3. They say they are located outside of the country but they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Be skeptical and don’t send money overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.