UTPD warns of phone scam that continues to target students

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Police Department warned the community last week of an uptick in reports of a phone scam that continually targets UT students. 

A caller clones the number of a law enforcement agency, Internal Revenue Service office or a University office and tells the student they owe back taxes, tuition or failed to complete university paperwork. The caller then tells the individual they must provide payment over the phone and if they end the call for any reason, a warrant will be put out for their arrest. The caller then instructs the student to purchase gift cards in the value of the “owed” amount and read the gift card number over the phone as payment.

“(The callers) can ask from anywhere to a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars,” UTPD Sgt. Samantha Carter said. “Unfortunately we have had students (fall victim to
the scam).”

While demanded payments are usually consistent, Carter said there was an incident this semester in which a student fell victim to the scam and paid the caller $10,000, the largest loss value Carter said she has seen in this particular scam. The investigation is ongoing. Additionally, scammers have recently begun cloning FBI phone numbers, UTPD Spokeswoman Cindy Posey said.

English sophomore Julio Diaz said he received a call from these scammers last fall. 

“I didn’t pay, but students (are easy targets),” Diaz said. “We’re gullible and fear the law, and we fear the uncertain.”

Carter said in recent years the department has seen increased occurrences of the scam during tax season and the beginning of each semester, when FAFSA applications and tuition payments are due for students. 

“We have the belief that it’s the same group of people calling each time, but it’s not something we can prove,” Carter said. 

Neuroscience junior Tamanna Basri said she nearly fell victim to the scam last semester, and when she disconnected the initial call, the scammer called her back and insisted she make a payment or risk being arrested due to a “government violation” of her FAFSA information. 

“I insisted on calling my parents or someone else to verify that this was true, but they said I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone,” Basri said. “Even though I saw all the red flags that it was fake, in the moment they said that there was a warrant out for my arrest, I felt scared and framed and I was like, “But what about the .00001 percent chance that this is real?’”

UTPD currently believes that the scammers are retrieving student’s phone numbers through the UT Directory. Carter recommended students restrict any information they don’t want made public through the directory. 

UTPD has reminded students through their social media pages and the Campus Watch, a subscribed email to inform people of selected daily crimes reported to or observed by UTPD, that neither law enforcement nor the University will ever demand payment over the phone. UTPD suggests to ask unknown callers for their name, the department they work for, the name of their supervisor and a case or file number and verify their information before giving personal information over the phone.