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University of Illinois students caught in financial scams, prompting police outreach

University of Illinois police vehicle

CHAMPAIGN – Several financial scams have struck local students in recent months, according to the University of Illinois Police Department.

Scammers often target international students and pose as government agencies – threatening to deport students if they don’t send money. 

University of Illinois Police Department’s Sergeant Robert Murphy says scam cases are difficult to solve, because they often require expensive equipment and technology training. 

“When you have these kinds of cases, I don’t know who the bad guy is — we don’t ever see the bad person. And it just goes off in the ether,” Murphy says. “Sometimes we get the money back. Sometimes we don’t.”

In January, the department reported three incidents of financial scammers blackmailing students using sexual photos the students sent. 

Murphy says international students are particularly vulnerable, because they don’t know how U.S. government agencies work. 

The University of Illinois Police Department has been trying to arm international students with knowledge about these scams before they happen. The university has the second-largest international student population out of public universities nationwide, with more than 11,000 students, according to university data

In 2019, Murphy traveled to Asia to meet students preparing to enroll at UI. The department sent him, Murphy says, as a way to build relationships with international students so they knew who to go to for help on campus. This way, students will know where to report the scams and know to refuse to send money. 

“We’re a face — we’re like their own personal police officer,” Murphy says. “Because a lot of the international community [doesn’t] have trust in the law enforcement so they don’t think they can come to us.”

The department requests students report financial scams to the University of Illinois Police Department immediately. 

Farrah Anderson is a journalist and student at the University of Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a student at the University of Illinois studying journalism. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter and produces and hosts the 217 Today podcast.

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