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International students, staff, researchers, and faculty are frequently targets of scams.  Scams are unlawful deceptive attempts, or criminal tricks, to accomplish a variety of fraudulent, illegal acts that could threaten your safety and well-being.

Scammers may contact you by phone, text, email, regular mail, fax, or possibly even in person at your home or office.  Scammers also monitor social media to acquire additional personal information about you.

The stories and tactics change over time, but the goal remains the same: to get your money or personal information by threat, deception, pressure, or intimidation.  As soon as warnings spread about one trick, a different scam usually starts up.

Some common scams you might see include:

  • pretending you or a family member are in trouble, with a promise to fix the problem if you pay them
  • saying they represent a U.S. immigration agency and claiming you have violated your immigration status, then demanding immediate payment of a fine or fee to restore your legal status and avoid deportation
  • saying they are from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and claiming you have not paid your taxes, then demanding immediate payment of overdue taxes to avoid deportation
  • contacting you from fake third-party tax companies (i.e., anyone other than IRS) telling you they will help collect a refund that you are owed if you provide your Social Security Number (SSN) or other personal information
  • saying they are from your Embassy or Consulate and asking for personal or financial information, or asking to FaceTime or Skype with you
  • requesting personal information about you to steal your identity and open financial accounts, potentially subjecting you to financial liability for items purchased or money borrowed in your name
  • posting online or contacting you through Facebook, Craigslist, eBay, PayPal, etc.
  • advertising the ‘Green Card Lottery” on websites that charge a fee to enter the lottery, or to help with an OPT, H-1B, or green card application
  • asking you to wire money or buy gift cards with a promise to pay you back more money in the future
  • telling you a sad story and appealing to your emotions or human decency
  • guaranteeing you a “get rich quick” scheme if you make a financial investment
  • promising you a green card if you marry them and pay them a large fee
  • promising you a job if you pay an agent or employer fee (general rule: employers pay YOU, you do not pay employers or pay for employer recruitment costs)
  • promising you anything else that sounds too good to be true

Follow these important tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a scam:

  • Be very cautious and be instantly suspicious about anyone contacting you by any means if your money or personal information is involved.
  • Do not be pressured to take immediate action, whether in providing information or paying money.  Legitimate businesses will give you time to make payments or provide information.
  • Avoid donating to people at your door.  Do not be rushed and avoid emotional pressure.  Legitimate charities and fundraisers should always be able to provide a way for you to contact them later or to request written information about their organization before you decide whether to donate.  You are NEVER obligated to give money to any charity—that is a personal choice, and you want to ensure your money is going to a cause you find worthy of your support.
  • Review the information you share on social media and delete your address, phone number, or other sensitive information that you have posted.  Change privacy settings so that only friends and family may view your content.
  • Set up automatic alerts for your credit or debit card to monitor purchases, and review your financial statements regularly for accuracy.  Notify your bank immediately regarding any unknown charges.
  • Shred sensitive documents when you are done with them.  Use only a cross-cut shredder.  Note: You should never shred an immigration document like an I-20, DS-2019 or I-797 form.  You should keep these documents permanently in a safe place.  They are an important part of your nonimmigrant history in the U.S. that may be required for a future immigration benefit.
  • Never, ever give your bank account information or SSN to anyone unless YOU have contacted THEM and are 100% certain they legitimately require such information.
    • Banks DO NOT NEED your SSN to open a checking or savings account.  Ask to speak to a bank manager if a banker requires this.
    • If the manager insists on your SSN, find another bank and report your experience to OIS. 
    • Note: banks and other lenders usually need your SSN if you are opening a credit card or loan account.  You will normally provide the SSN on a credit or loan application via a secure internet site or in person at the bank or lender office, not over the phone.
  • Never, ever give your SSN to someone claiming to be from your employer.  Contact your human resources representative directly to confirm the legitimacy of such a request. An employer should only need your SSN at the beginning of your employment for payroll and tax purposes.  A SSN is NOT required to complete Form I-9.
  • Do not provide personal information or your SSN unless it is in person or over a secure website of a bank, employer, or other legitimate organization with which you are doing business AND which requires the information to provide you employment or a service.  Visit the organization’s main website if you are unsure of the site’s authenticity.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card or your SSN in your wallet or purse on a regular basis.  If your wallet or purse are stolen or lost, you risk someone using your SSN fraudulently.
  • Never trust links provided in emails unless you are sure of the authenticity and legitimacy of the sender.  If you are suspicious, trust your instincts.  Look carefully at the sender’s email address or the website URL.  These will often look very authentic at first glance, but upon closer inspection contain typographical errors or other discrepancies that indicate they are fraudulent.
  • While JHU offices including OIS will send you emails regularly, check them out first before clicking any links.  An email may look like it is from Johns Hopkins, but upon closer inspection you may find it is not coming from a valid email address such as,,,, etc.
  • Do not offer or confirm any personal information over the phone, including your name.  The more information you provide, the easier it will be for the caller to scam you.
    • Do not trust Caller ID to be accurate.  The telephone number you see may not be a call from the actual number displayed.  For example, telemarketers frequently use technology to make it appear they are calling from a local number to increase the chance you will answer their call.
  • If contacted unexpectedly by someone from an entity claiming to do business with you or with which you hold an account, do not provide or confirm any information.  Instead, contact the entity directly after you have verified their telephone number, email address, or website URL.
  • U.S. government and law enforcement agencies will never:
    • Call you and demand immediate payment over the phone;
    • Demand that you pay taxes, fines or debts without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount they say you owe;
    • Ask for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone or email; or,
    • Threaten to have you arrested or deported for not paying a fine immediately.

How and where to report scams:

  • Immediately take down as much information as you can remember about the possible scam and report it to JHU Security or OIS:
    • Manner in which you were contacted (phone, text, email, etc.)
    • Contact information of the scammer (name, agency or business affiliation, phone number, location, email, etc.)
    • Details of the scam itself (what are they asking from you, such as money/amount, personal information/type; how they want you to comply, such as going to a website or providing information over the phone, etc.)
    • The demeanor of the scammer (were they abusive, rude, insistent, level of urgency, etc.)
    • Whether they already knew any personal information about you (your name, address, school, etc.)
  • Contact JHU Security or OIS for guidance if you are in doubt about the legitimacy or authenticity of any request for information or money BEFORE complying with the request.  Chances are high that it is a scam and you will never get your money back, or you may have your identity stolen sometime in the future.
  • If you are certain you were targeted by a scam but did not provide any information or money, please report that to JHU Security or OIS.  A timely alert from you may help save someone else from becoming a scam victim.
  • For job scams, contact your school’s career services office for guidance.
  • See the resources below and report your experience, as appropriate.
  • Share your knowledge of scams and scam resources with family and friends.

Additional resources for members of the JHU international community:

Government resources

Information from the Federal Trade Commission on avoiding scams for immigrants and refugees (pamphlets available in several languages):

Recent Federal Trade Commission consumer scam alerts:

Department of Homeland Security notice on scams:

IRS tax scams and consumer alerts:

Maryland Attorney General Office, Consumer Protection Division:

Virginia Attorney General Office, Consumer Protection:

DC Attorney General, Consumer Protection:

Commercial sites