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Avoiding Scams

What is a scam?

A scam is a dishonest scheme carried out by an individual, group, or company to steal your money or something else valuable. Scammers are criminals who are lying to you. 

How do scams work?

Scammers contact a potential victim by phone, email, or other means to make a demand. They generally ask you to transfer money—sometimes thousands of dollars—or share personal information, with the threat that something bad will happen if you don't comply. This crime is called fraud.

Scammers may pose as people from your home country needing help or authorities from your home country's government or the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or Department of Homeland Security. They may threaten to arrest or deport you unless you transfer money to them right away.

What are the common warning signs of scams?

The scammer will order you to take urgent action immediately to avoid some bad outcome.

Ten more tip-offs that you're being scammed ...

  • The scammer demands immediate payment by phone or wants you to transfer money into an account.
  • The scammer asks for your bank account or credit card number.
  • The scammer has your personal information, such as your home address or email password, or asks you to supply this information.
  • The scammer becomes increasingly aggressive and threatening.
  • The scammer threatens your immigration status if you don't pay the required amount.
  • The scammer threatens to detain you or to send the police to arrest you.
  • The scammer threatens to share embarrassing secrets about you.
  • The scammer uses official-sounding language such as "immigration regulations," "federal law," "visa status," or "visa fee" to appear legitimate.
  • The scammer tells you that you have won the "green card lottery," but you have to pay for it.
  • The scammer tries to keep you on the phone for a long time and won't allow you to hang up or call back later.

Help! I'm being scammed. What do I do?

  • Hang up on the call immediately. Block the number, and contact Cornell Police.
  • Don't reply to threatening emails. Contact Cornell Police.
  • If anything official-looking comes in the mail that seems threatening or demands money, don't respond! Take the letter to Cornell Police
  • Not sure? Let us help. Stop by our drop-in hours or email us if you have questions or concerns about scams, or if you think you or a friend may have been a victim.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Never send cash or payments to a stranger or "official" who contacts you by phone, email, or mail.
  • Don't provide any personal information, such as bank account information, credit card number, Social Security number, or address.
  • Don't buy gift cards, such as Apple or Best Buy, if a stranger directs you to make these purchases.
  • Don't cash checks that arrive in the mail unexpectedly.
  • Never sign a contract without reading it and completely understanding the terms.
  • Make online purchases only from a reputable business. Remember that websites like Craigslist and eBay may have fraudulent advertisements.