Online Scams: Don’t Become a Victim

“I have a lucrative job opportunity for you! I’d like to pay you $500 a week to be my personal assistant.”

Does this sound familiar? With the return of students and staff to campus, we have seen a massive uptick in the number of scams targeting our community members. Unfortunately, scams and fraud are a lucrative business for the perpetrators. The FBI tracked more than $3.5 billion dollars in losses to businesses and individuals in 2019 alone.

To help you protect yourself, I’d like to share a few of the most common scams we are seeing on campus:

  1. A person pretending to be a boss, coworker, instructor, or a person in a position of authority. The individual will create a fake email address and pose as the authority figure before asking you to purchase gift cards and send them the codes. If you receive an email like this, always ensure you connect with the person over the phone or in person to determine if it is legitimate.
  2. An individual may contact you claiming to be a federal agent, police officer, tax collector, or another government representative. They may say you have a warrant for your arrest, owe taxes, or are otherwise in violation of a law and then demand a payment. They will often request this payment in gift cards or other unusual forms of payment, and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay. A police officer or agent will never demand payment over the phone or online. Do not send any money to people claiming to be law enforcement officers without first contacting your local police.
  3. An individual may pretend to have a job or other financial opportunity for you. They will often send you a large check, and then direct you to send a portion of that check to another person or agency. You will deposit the check into your bank and it will appear to clear, but the check will later bounce after you send your actual money to the scammer. Don’t send money to a stranger who asks you to cash a check for them.

Scammers and fraudsters are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to steal money from people. They are often elaborate in their methodology and can seem incredibly convincing. Sometimes, they use intimidation and scare tactics to override your better judgment. If you’re being offered money without doing work, if you’re being offered a job without applying, or if you’re being notified of winning a large sum of money, it’s most likely a scam. 

Whenever you’re in doubt, contact UWPD and ask to speak to an officer or dispatcher about the situation. We can help you determine if the email, text, or phone call is legitimate.  Believe it or not, I’ve even received emails from scammers posing as Chief Roman asking me to buy gift cards!  It happens to everyone on campus.

Be skeptical and remember: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Officer Jake Lepper, UWPD Southeast Community Officer
jake.lepper@wisc.edu