The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) continues to receive reports about potential fraud as scammers try to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to lure unsuspecting victims. Reports to UT Police of suspected – and verified – phishing scams have increased, especially those attempting to entice victims with check-cashing and work-at-home scams.
One prevalent check-cashing scam involves contacting victims using a “spoofed” phone number or email address. In some cases, the callers claim to be employed by an agency, bank, or another entity. They inform the victim that they owe some type of fine or tax and will be arrested if the matter is not resolved immediately.
Scammers might also ask for personal information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, and other details that can be used to commit fraud or to sell a person's identity. Do not provide this information and do not respond to suspicious emails or phone calls. It is best to contact the business or agency directly by phone or through their website. If these emails are coming in to your institutional email address, report them to firstname.lastname@example.org or ITS@uth.tmc.edu.
Be reminded that government agencies do not use telephone collection agencies to collect on debt or charges due. The phone numbers of government agencies can be verified on their .gov websites.
UT Police Assistant Chief Vicki King gives this advice, “Remember this: The Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service or any other government agency will never call you. They will always contact you by old-fashioned mail. If you receive a call—or an email—from someone claiming to represent such an agency, you have been targeted by criminals. Never open an attachment and never respond to a suspicious text or email. Period. No exceptions.”
There is heightened vulnerability for individuals who have experienced job loss and too often under stressful financial pressures. This is a prime opportunity for scammers to successfully lure a victim who is searching for another source of income. UT Police has also received reports of work-at-home scams which promise the ability to be your own boss and earn thousands of dollars a month. Some scams require the individual to pay for a starter kit or certification, while others may even promise a refund if you don’t succeed.
“It’s a good idea to do your research before applying for a job, especially if the job seems too good to be true,” said King. These scams ultimately take victims’ money and provide no income. Victims often end up in debt.
While there are many jobs that allow individuals the ability to work from home, the Federal Trade Commission provides many resources on their website to those who want to know more about the types of work-at-home scams and what to do if you fall victim.
If you believe you may have been targeted by a scam, contact the UT Police non-emergency phone number at 713-792-2890 to report the incident. You are also encouraged to contact the FTC Call Center at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or go online: ftc.gov/complaint, if you have any questions or believe you have been a victim of fraud or a scam.