Avoid Being Scammed This Tax Season

It’s tax season, which means it’s a new year. Scammers, however, are up to their same old tricks.

The Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management and the Pitt Police are reminding students that some may receive a telephone call from someone pretending to be an employee of a government agency, such as the IRS or a local police department, and request personal information or money in various forms. 

A scammer’s goal is to get to your money, and a legitimate government agency, such as the IRS, will never ask for your social security number, request payments such as wire or gift cards, or overpay you with a check. 

International students may receive a call from someone pretending to be from a government agency and claiming that there is a problem with your immigration documents or visa renewal.  These scammers will also threaten to arrest you or have you kicked out of school.  

If you believe a call is suspicious, hang up and report it to Pitt Police at 412-624-2121.

If you are concerned about your visa or immigration status, please call the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Service’s National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Of course, not all scams are tax related, and while they are all designed to separate you from your money, some also result in emotional distress. Pitt Police want to make you aware of the types of scams that you may encounter and how to protect yourself.

The first thing to know is how to recognize the red flags that you're being targeted.

Anyone who demands payment in gift cards, such as Google Play or iTunes, or cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, and wants you to pay them immediately should be indications that someone is likely scamming you.  Again, government agencies, whether they are federal, state or local, will never make such calls, wouldn’t make threats and wouldn’t ask for such payments.

It's also important to know the number of ways scammers will try to disguise themselves. To get your money, a scammer will pretend to be legitimate agencies or companies you do business with, such as:

  • Your bank.
  • The IRS. If the IRS ever contacts you, it will likely do so through regular, first-class mail, and would never threaten to contact other agencies for your cooperation.
  • A technical support service claiming to be with Microsoft or Apple, telling you that someone has tried to log in to your account. Generally, don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. And unless you have initiated contact with a tech support representative or company, do not give a third party access to your computer.
  • Someone interested in your Instagram or other social media posts that you do not know or are unfamiliar with.
  • Someone offering you a guaranteed scholarship or student loan debt relief, especially if they need your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
  • Potential roommates and landlords. If they can’t meet with you in person, or they can only communicate through email, they are likely not legitimate.
  • Someone pretending to be with PayPal. PayPal often communicates by way of email, but they will never ask you for your password, bank account or credit card information, and they will never ask you to download or install software.
  • Someone claiming to have a work-from-home job involving re-packaging or re-shipping merchandise. If they are claiming to pay you at a rate for a job that sounds like it’s too good to be true, then it is. 
  • A rideshare driver whose name, picture, and vehicle do not match the information provided on the app, asks to be paid in cash, or won’t let you out of the vehicle. If any of those are the case, call 911 immediately.

If you ever have a doubt, just hang up. Scammers will try to keep you on the line, but just hang up. Then, on your own, look up the number of the company or agency through an independent source, such as the official website, and call that number. Verify whether or not they tried to contact you. 

Also, ask a friend, teacher, relative or police officer what they think. Chances are, if they think it sounds like a scam, they may be right. 

If you think you have been scammed, please report it to Pitt Police by calling 412-624-2121. 

Now that you know who scammers will pretend to be, here are some common scams to avoid:

Debt Relief Scams

Students should also be aware of calls that claim to be from a debt relief company promising to pay off your student loans.

There are legitimate programs for this, and all are free to apply for.  Please note be aware that the Department of Education’s loan forgiveness program is currently being blocked by the court and sis not currently accepting applications.

Nevertheless, if you are contacted by an illegitimate program, be suspicious if:

  • You’re asked to pay an upfront cost or monthly fees.  If you’re having a hard time making your monthly payments, your loan servicer can help you find options for a more affordable repayment plan at any time, at no additional cost to you.
  • You’re promised immediate loan forgiveness.  According to the website Department of Education website StudentAid.gov, no one can promise immediate and total student loan forgiveness or cancellation. Most legitimate government forgiveness programs require many years of qualifying payments and/or qualifying employment before loans can be forgiven.
  • You’re asked to provide your FSA ID password.  Neither the Department of Education nor your loan service provider will ask you for your FSA ID (account username and password), which has the same legal status as a written signature. Do not give your FSA ID password to anyone or allow anyone to create an FSA ID for you.

​Spoofing Scams

This scam is part of a broader, national trend in which a legitimate phone number — such as one belonging to the Pitt Police — appears on the victim’s caller ID. The Pitt Police Department and its officers will never use one of its numbers to solicit money or make demands.

We advise anyone receiving such a call to hang up. Then, call the police department to ask if someone called you. If not, please file a report.

We also ask the community to always be wary of anyone who calls and threatens imprisonment or deportment and asks for immediate payment in gift cards or crypto-currency. 

Blackmail Behavior Scams

Scammers target college students by obtaining potentially damaging personal information or photos and then extorting them for money. Often, the student is caught on video doing something inappropriate or has shared intimate photos with a person they met on a dating app or social media platform.

The blackmailer will then threaten to publish the content unless payment is made immediately through wire, gift cards or peer-to-peer payments. Even if the student complies, the blackmailer will continue to demand more money, photos or sexual favors and threaten to publish the materials across social media platforms.

In addition to the financial impact, behavior blackmail can also have a devastating psychological effect on its victim.

Here's how you can help prevent behavior blackmail with these tips: 

  • Be cautious when dating online, especially if you have not yet met the person. 
  • If using a dating or social media app, keep your privacy settings to the strictest level. 
  • Do not share compromising photos with anyone, even dating partners. Not all relationships last forever or end on amicable terms.
  • Do not save intimate photos on your device.

If you believe you are a victim of a behavior blackmail incident, please report it to the Pitt Police at 412-624-2121 and stop communicating with the blackmailer. Do not send them any money through wire, gift cards, or peer-to-peer (P2P) payments.  

Protecting Yourself

  • Increase the privacy settings on your social media accounts to help reduce your chances of being targeted. 
  • Never, ever share your debit card or PIN number or other personal identification number with anyone. Not a roommate, not a friend, not a dating partner. Also, when making online purchases, it’s better to use a credit card instead of a debit card.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card. Memorize the number.
  • Be increasingly careful of how you use P2P apps, such as CashApp and Venmo. As their use grows, so too will scammers’ attempts to exploit them. Try not to use the apps to make payments on goods and services. And never send or accept P2P payments from someone you don’t know.
  • Trust your gut, if something feels wrong, it probably is! 

Who to Contact for Help

If you feel like you or someone you know may have been scammed, please contact 911 or Pitt Police at 412-624-2121. Officers can assist you by taking a report, providing safety tips, and help you prevent any future scam incidents. 

International Association of Financial Crime Investigation: IAFCI.org

Internet Crime Complaint Center: ic3.gov