Scams, hoaxes, fraud, deception: What are they and how to protect yourself

If you think you've been the victim of a scam, fraud or a hoax

If you think you have been a victim of a scam or deceived, please contact the International Center or call: 330 972-6349 and/or the University of Akron Police Department or call: 330 972-2911

When we hear of scams hitting the Akron campus we will let you know in the weekly International Student/Scholar Newsletter.

If you do not currently receive this Newsletter and would like to do so, please let us know.

Defining terms

Deceit (deception): the act of being dishonest or misleading, causing someone to accept a lie as truth (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Fraud: intentional perversion of truth, deceiving or misrepresenting in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

FTC/Federal Trade Commission: The mission of this government agency is: Protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.

Hoax: to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Imposter: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be, one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Phishing: the use of email and fraudulent web sites to trick people into disclosing personal financial or identity information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, user names (e.g., UAnet IDs), passwords and addresses. More information about phishing.

Scam: a fraudulent (fraud) or deceptive (deceit) act or operation (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Scammer: a person who commits fraud or participates in a dishonest scheme.

How to protect yourself

Types of imposter scams. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member or friend etc. They try to steal money or your identity.

The request for money and/or information can come in many forms: a text, phone call, or an email.

  • In these scams, someone makes a request for you to send money to pay for taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about.
  • Sometimes, they claim it is an emergency or that you have won a prize.
  • No government agency will ever ask you to wire them money or to send them gift cards.
  • The scammers may say you need to pay taxes or fees before they release your prize.


  • Do not give someone you do not know money.
  • Check out the offer in detail or ask someone in the International Center before you send money to anyone.
  • Did you enter the contest? If you did not enter, you cannot have won it!
  • Do not give out (or confirm) personal information in response to an unexpected request.

Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, just hang up. Do not rely on caller ID to verify the caller.

  • If you get a strange call from the government, hang up. If you want to check it out, visit the official (.gov) website for contact information. Government employees will not call suddenly to demand money or information.
    • This includes USCIS (“the immigration people”) and the IRS (“the tax people”).
  • Do not give out —or confirm —your personal or financial information to someone who calls.
  • Do not wire money or send money using a reloadable card or a gift card.
  • Never pay someone who calls out of the blue, even if the name or number on the caller ID looks legitimate.
  • Feeling pressured to act immediately? That’s a sure sign of a scam. Hang up!

Spoofing Scams occur when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

  • If you receive a call from your own phone number you may have been spoofed. You can file a complaint with the FTC to stop the spammers from using your phone number to defraud other people.

Google a company or product name with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.”

If you receive a phone call, you can search the internet for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams. If in doubt do not answer the call.

Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some other payment methods don’t.

  • Wiring money
    Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.
  • Reloadable gift cards
    Reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla, is nearly impossible to get your money back due to fraud/scam.

Government offices and honest companies will not require you to use these payment methods.

Think about it:

  • The Government does not want iTunes cards.
  • The Government does not want gift cards to Target or Walmart (or any other store)
  • If anyone tells you to buy gift cards to pay the IRS or USCIS, to qualify for a grant, or to get a loan or bail out a family member, just say “No!”

Be careful about depositing checks from people you don’t know. By US law, banks must make funds from checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you will be responsible for repaying the bank.

Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists and scammers want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you.

Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert —or just tell a friend.

  • At Akron, you can contact the International Center (email or call 330 972-6349) and/or
  • University of Akron Police Department (email or call 330 972-2911)

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. Some of these calls are illegal. Do not press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls. This FTC website indicates which robocalls are and are not legal.

Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy.

Always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.

Examples of common scams

Here is a list of common scams that have unfortunately impacted international students in the USA:

Federal student tax

  • Some scammers claim to be from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and tell students (international and US) that they owe a “federal student tax”. There is no such thing.
  • If you owe money or if the IRS needs to contact you, they will send you a letter first.
  • Do not believe scammers who say that a letter was sent to you but was returned as undeliverable and that you can “take care of the issue” over the phone.

Immigration scams

  • If anyone tells you to buy gift cards to pay USCIS, ICE, CBP, DHS, or INS
  • If anyone threatens you or a family member’s immigration status for gift cards
  • Where to go for help for immigration scams

Identity theft

  • Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud.
  • The identity thief may use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.
  • There are several common types of identity theft:
    • Virtual Kidnappings- someone claims to have kidnapped you or a family member, and aims to extort very large sums of money for their release. If you receive any calls about a kidnapping please contact the UAPD immediately.  
    • Tax ID theft - Someone uses your Social Security number to falsely file tax returns with the IRS or your state Tax scams (video)
    • Medical ID theft - Someone steals your Medicare ID or health insurance member number. Thieves use this information to get medical services or send fake bills to your health insurer.
    • Social ID theft - Someone uses your name and photos to create a fake account on social media.

Friend requests from strangers

  • Be cautious of friend requests from people you do not know, they may be fake accounts trying to gain access to your photos, and other personal information
  • Do NOT engage with an account that seems questionable

Top 5 Social Media scams

  • Hidden URLs
  • Phishing requests
  • Hidden charges
  • Cash grabs
  • Chain letters

More information/resources about scams

Consumer alerts from the FTC

Department of Homeland Security

Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration

The University of Akron


Selective Service is NOT a scam

It is something that looks like a scam but is NOT. It is important to know that the Selective Service System is legitimate.

  • You *may* receive a letter from the Selective Service System which appears to say you have been signed up to join the US Military. You have not, but this is a legitimate letter and should not be ignored.
  • Read the letter carefully: it includes instructions for international students to verify their non-immigrant status and exemption from this process.

Always remember: If in doubt, come see us in the International Center