Identity theft is a common crime in the United States. It happens when someone accesses private information of yours and uses it to take over your identity. Once they have access to all of your accounts and personal information, they are able to cause chaos in your life. It's easy to get caught and lose everything you’ve worked hard for. There are numerous scammers out there who try to scare you into providing personal information. Foreigners who are not necessarily used to this common practice can fall for the trap. The scare of deportation is always a threat to international students so scammers try to use what they know and try to lure students into providing personal information.
The following tips can immensely help international students avoid scams like these.
1. Don’t share personal information with anyone
You may make a lot of close friends who may serve as a family for you. But always keep personal information to yourself. You never know how quickly information spreads so it's better to keep it to yourself. Information such as social security numbers, account numbers, passwords etc. You never know how far that information can spread and who has malicious intent. As a practice, change your passwords on a regular basis and don’t use passwords that are easy to guess (e.g. birthdays, anniversary dates, names of loved ones, generic words like ‘password’ or ‘12345’ etc.)
2. Don’t fall for schemes
It can start with a simple phone call over a lost wallet or the IRS calling to demand money. Don’t fall for incompetent schemers who are merely trying to scare you into sending money or giving out personal information. There are always new schemes being developed where people create notices through the mail, email or even by phone that appear very official, but they are not.
Firstly, know the IRS or government agencies and law enforcement will never call and demand immediate payment over the phone or by wire. They will never demand you release your personal information over the phone. Scammers are very tricky and aggressive. They will threaten you with jail time or deportation if you talk to anyone else or not meet their demands. But this is only a ploy to get information. If you happen to get calls like these, simply hang up the phone or ignore the email. There are a few things to watch out for when you get a call like this or an email:
- Is the person asking for personal information (Social security #, credit card number etc.)
- Are they asking for money for something?
- Is the person being really pushy and/or threatening you
- Is the email from a weird address?
- Are there any spelling/grammatical errors?
If you can detect any of these signs, you may be dealing with a scammer trying to get your information or your money.
Here is one common scam to be aware of:
Scheme: IRS email or phone call scam
DescriptionFraudulent individuals call or unsuspecting victims, asking for information or money and threaten them with fines, deportation, jail time etc.
What to do: Remember, government agencies will never demand you release your personal information or wire money over the phone. If you receive one, you can report the scammers to the IRS directly on the IRS website
3. Safety first!
Always keep your personal data in a secure place. You can also open a safety deposit box at your local bank. There’s a minimal monthly fee that can be paid but this assures your passport, I-20 and other important documents are stored away in very secure means. You can also upload your online documents to a secure cloud storage space - this will help you access your documents anywhere you are in the world. You will always have access to your documents. It's critical to have an online data storage for emergencies when your laptop is stolen, destroyed or other devices that could carry personal information.
Click here for more information on where to find commonly used online data storage.
Make sure your smartphone is also secured with a passcode or fingerprint lock. In addition, ensure that you have set up tracking ability on your phone as well a remote wipe feature. That way, if anyone gets a hold of your phone, they won’t be able to login to it and you’ll be able to locate it easily or remote wipe it. As a good practice, also make sure your phone is being backed up to a cloud storage service like iCloud, Google Photos etc. This will make sure your data is safe, even if your phone has to be remote wiped or breaks.
4. Keep photocopies
Always make extra photocopies of all your important documents and even the inside of your wallet such as driver's License debit/credit cards etc. You always want to make sure you have copies of all your documents in case anything ever happens, it's far easier to trace it back with copies. You can also scan and email copies to yourself and upload them to your cloud storage or data storage as well so you may access them when needed.
5. Examine Bank Statements
Examine your bank statements monthly to verify there’s no suspicious activity on your statements. It's important to keep an eye out for those. It happens more frequently than you think. So it's best to confirm there’s no suspicious activity. If you do happen to find suspicious activity in your account, it would be wise to call your local bank and speak with them about recent transactions. They can cancel or block your current card and reissue you a new one.
Overall, it's simple - if you understand the importance of identity theft, it will help you avoid it. Always make sure to read up on it for your own further knowledge. Follow these tips and share it with your friends and family. I hope these tips will help those who are new to the U.S avoid any scams or fraudulent activity.