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URBANA — A 34-year-old University of Illinois employee being swindled out of $69,000 this week has prompted UI police to alert students and staff to be wary of scammers.

The warnings hold true for anyone who has ever received a phone call that seems off.

UI police spokesman Pat Wade said the postdoctoral research associate reported he was contacted by phone Monday by someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, telling him that his Social Security number had been compromised.

The same caller told the employee there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Texas, and that it could be resolved if he transferred money to the police in the form of virtual currency.

After being instructed to visit a number of banks and Bitcoin ATMs, the victim transferred a total of $69,000 to various accounts and addresses.

Wade said while scams on college campuses and elsewhere are prevalent, he hadn’t seen one where the victim was taken for so much money.

During the call, the victim believed that he was speaking with a Social Security representative, and then a police officer. The scammers even made it appear they were calling from a bona fide phone number, even though the call originated from somewhere entirely different than what was listed on the victim’s caller ID.

Wade said previous scams have involved callers who pretend to be Internal Revenue Service or immigration officials. They often demand payment in the form of gift cards or virtual currency.

Police remind people that:

— No government official will demand money over the phone, and if someone claims to be a police officer, immigration official, tax agent or any other government representative, the call is likely a scam.

— Never give out bank-account information, credit-card numbers or your Social Security number to someone you do not know. Always verify someone’s identity and that they are from a legitimate organization before you give them personal information.

— If a caller wants you to buy gift cards or transfer a payment in the form of virtual currency, the call is likely a scam.

— Scammers try to intimidate victims with threats of arrest or deportation. If that happens, the call is likely a scam.

— Scammers may direct you to visit several banks to withdraw cash in small amounts because they know that withdrawing large amounts of cash raises red flags for bank employees.

— Scammers often “spoof” phone numbers of legitimate agencies — that is, make the caller ID display appear to be from a legitimate agency even though the call is originating from elsewhere. If you have doubts, hang up and call the listed number for that agency to speak to a representative.

If you encounter any of these red flags, hang up immediately and call 911.

On the UI campus, the 24-hour nonemergency number for the police department is 217-333-1216.


Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).