Public Safety

Online and phone scams

Online and phone scams have become prevalent in recent years. Many scammers target students, especially students looking for employment, but scams come in many different forms.

Online scams

  • Make sure your social media accounts are private.
  • Posts online do not go away. Think about what you post before you post.
  • Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know on social media.
  • If someone asks you to pay for something in gift cards, it is likely a scam.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines virtual kidnapping as telephonic or digital coercion schemes, aimed at extorting quick ransom payments from victims through threats of harm or violence.

Job scams:

  • If you receive an email about a job opening, call the company to confirm the job opening.
  • Avoid companies that want to contact you only by email and text message.
  • If your email username is the name the sender uses to address you in an email, it is likely a scam.
  • If you are not familiar with the company name, or if the sender's name is a word such as "congratulations," you should be skeptical.

Check scams:

  • Don't send money via Western Union or MoneyGram to someone you do not know.
  • Do not accept a check from or cash a check for someone you do not know.
  • If someone sends a check and asks you to send money back, and tells you to keep some for yourself, it is likely a scam.
  • Some scammers target people who sell items online. They “accidentally” overpay and request the seller return the overpaid funds. The seller will return the money, and then the check from the scammer will bounce.


A scammer may pose as someone else online and request inappropriate photos or videos, or request to video chat. If the target sends the photos or videos, or does something revealing during the chat, the scammer will threaten to post them publically or send them to the victim’s family members unless the victim sends the scammer money.

Five ways to protect yourself online:

  • Use complex passwords. Long passwords with both capital and lowercase letters, special characters and numbers are best. Your password should not be related to something someone might know about you.
  • Do not click on email links or attachments you do not recognize. The attachment or link can open your computer to malware, a malicious piece of code, or it can lead you to “phishing” sites that harvest usernames and passwords.
  • Do not click on pop up windows, as they can expose you to ransomware, a specific type of malicious code that holds you to ransom.
  • Check URLs. Hackers can create websites that look like a webpage you use, such as your banking website or Facebook.
  • Install a piece of anti-virus software or web application firewall. Most antivirus software automatically downloads updates to existing viruses.

Phone scams

  • Many scammers will claim to be from the IRS, and tell you that you owe money. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS generally mails a bill to the taxpayer who owes taxes first. Find out more here.
  • Scammers will also claim to be from your bank, or a company, such as a utility company, and request information. Other scammers may call and offer to extend your vehicle warranty. Do not give out your personal information over the phone.
  • If someone calls and tells you that your computer has a virus and says they can fix it, that is likely a scam. Never give someone you do not know remote access to your computer.

Lending your phone

If you have any payment apps on your phone, be wary of lending it to a stranger if, for example, someone asks to borrow your phone to make a call. Rather than making a call, the suspect may instead transfer money to themselves using a payment app. 

Three ways to protect yourself:

  • Dial the number yourself.
  • Ensure no one can access your accounts. For example, require a password to open your account.
  • Do not lend your phone to anyone.