A Warning Against Common Scams

One sure sign of the start of a new semester is the sudden increase in reports of scamming activity. In January alone, UWPD saw a significant uptick in reports of people being scammed or defrauded.

There’s no shame in being targeted by — or even falling victim to – scam activity. Many scammers are professionals; it’s what they do and some are quite good at it. Many know the triggers that get people to respond, to draw them in, and to even extract substantial sums of money from their victims.

The best defense is education and communication:  A scam won’t work if the intended victim recognizes the signs of the fraudulent activity.

Here are some of the most common scams we’ve seen attempted against our students, faculty, and staff:

The Accommodation Scam – Unscrupulous individuals may pose as landlords or property agents, offering attractive rental deals for housing that either does not exist or is vastly different from the descriptions provided. To safeguard against this, thoroughly research potential accommodations, avoid making hasty decisions, and insist on visiting the property before making any payments.

The Fraudulent Job Scam – “There’s this executive, they need a personal assistant, I can do the job 100% remotely, only work 15 hours a week, and the pay is $500.00 a week! They even sent me a check paying me several weeks in advance…I just have to refund a small percentage on to their business associate. I can’t believe my luck!” Yeah, don’t believe it, because it’s a scam. That check they provided will bounce in a few days, but the money sent from your account won’t be refunded, and the ‘executive’ will be ghosting you. If it’s too good to be true, it is.

The Gift Card Scam – Imagine receiving an email from your boss, professor, or some other authority you respect. For some reason, they’re in a situation where they have to pay or reward someone RIGHT NOW and don’t have the means to do it themselves. Since you’re so trustworthy, they want your help. And then they instruct you to acquire pre-paid gift cards and send the card numbers to someone. This is a perniciously successful scam, and people every day go against their better judgment and give in. It’s fake. Nobody but a scammer takes payment in gift cards.

The Get-Out-of-Jail Scam – This scam usually starts with a telephone call or text from a ‘law enforcement official’ on behalf of a friend of family member. They explain your acquaintance has been arrested or otherwise detained, and they need your help to be released. That help, not surprisingly, is to pay some fine or judgment. Excuses are made as to why you can’t speak with the person directly. A simple way to thwart this one is to ask the official the name of their law enforcement agency, then contact that organization directly yourself.

The Government Official Scam – We see this scam most often targeting our international students or employees. They receive a communication purportedly from a government official or police representative in either their home country or the US. They describe some infraction that has occurred and, to avoid arrest, deportation, visa revocation, or consequences with family members back home, a small sum of money must be paid. Often, it begins with a relatively insignificant payment…but that’s just the start. Once an initial payment is made, the scam goes on, and the payments become increasingly substantial. Much like the Get-Out-of-Jail scheme, one way to stop this scam is to contact the actual department being mentioned and make your own inquiries. I can’t speak for all international governments or police agencies, but I can confidently say that no government or law enforcement agency in the United States will make such a request.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential scams. Sometimes these and others are mixed and matched, depending on the skills of the scammer. But by knowing the elements of even a few of the common scam activities, you very well may recognize others not listed. Knowledge is power!

What should you do if you feel you have been or are currently being targeted by a scammer? First, don’t send any (or any more) money or other items of financial value. Then, contact UWPD to report the incident, and for help in finding resources that will further protect you.



Jeff Kirchman

University Apartments Community Police Officer

608-264-2677 | jkirchman@wisc.edu