Beware of scams related to COVID-19

There’s no debating that COVID-19 has created a strain on personal incomes, and scammers are taking advantage of that financial stress. By early June of this year, more than $59 million in individual losses had been reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Colorado State University police warn that students, faculty and staff are also being targeted in recent job and financial scams. Recently a scam has spoofed CSUPD’s phone number to try to bilk students and employees out of money through a promise of purchasing Bitcoins. And earlier this fall scammers spoofed university employee emails with messages about job offers.

Scammers will often “spoof” a phone number or email so that it appears the call is from a government agency, a colleague or university employee, or some other reputable person. However, scammers are often individuals who are working overseas.

In addition, scammers are contacting individuals with COVID-19 ploys, such as offering tests, vaccines or other products. More information about COVID-specific scams can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website.

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Red flags

Virtually every scam uses one of these elements or a combination of these elements to hook their victims:

  • Random, unsolicited requests for money or your financial information, or offer you a job or money
  • High pressure tactics: intimidation, a threat to harm you or someone else, or pressure to trust the scammer or do what they say before they will stop communicating with you
  • Creating fear through threats of embarrassment or harm to you, the person engaging with you, or others

While those perpetrating scams are always creating new stories to lure their victims in, all scams have certain red flags that warn you that they are not legitimate.

  • The university does not allow unsolicited job offers to be emailed to employees and students over university email, even if the offer appears to come from a student or employee.
  • If you are offered a job that sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If you are asked to purchase anything as part of an unsolicited job, it is likely a scam.
  • If someone pressures you for payment via Venmo, PayPal, gift cards, Western Union, or MoneyGram, be extremely cautious and independently validate the request before sending any money.
  • Government agencies generally won’t call you and demand payment to avoid being arrested, charged with a crime or being deported.
  • Some scammers will accuse you of committing intentional fraud or threaten that information about you is being sent to collections for a debt that you have not incurred.
  • If you are an international student, do not send money to resolve threats that you will be arrested or deported. Go to the INTO or International Programs offices for help.
  • Never share sensitive, personal, or financial information over the phone, email, or social media, even if the person seems legitimate and the information they are sharing is accurate.
  • Talk to your bank before depositing checks from sources you don’t know and trust, particularly sources asking for help with transferring money, or who are offering you an unsolicited job.
  • Some scams threaten embarrassment by building personal relationships with you, then asking for sexual, compromising or embarrassing videos, photos or information. Once they have that information, they then threaten to share the images or information unless they are paid. If you experience one of these scams, contact your local law enforcement.
  • Other scams are perpetrated online, often via dating or social media sites, under the guise of romantic interest, often spending months building trust yet never being available to meet in person. These scammers will build an online relationship with their victim, and then get the victim to send money or gift cards to help them out of financial or legal trouble.
  • Not all scams ask for money; some scammers say they are from a government agency and that the victim’s Social Security Number has been compromised. They get the victim to “verify” the number by giving it to them, and then the scammers have the victim’s personal information.

Protect yourself

  • Google the phone number that called or texted you. Is it on a scam alert warning website?
  • Look up online information about the office or agency that called you. Does the phone number you were given match?
  • If you are being threatened with collections, arrest or deportation, call the number listed online (not the one provided to you by the potential scammer) of the agency, such as the police department or IRS. Ask to verify the information you were provided.