By Danielle Chesney
Entirely East Lansing
Reggie Ferrell describes what made the fraudulent phone call believable. Sound clip by Danielle Chesney.
EAST LANSING – Michigan State University Police have received multiple reports of fraudulent phone calls occurring in the East Lansing area and have encouraged members of the community to be aware of the scam.
Michigan State University sophomore Ondraé Lawson received a fraudulent call from a man at a Detroit phone number, claiming to be from the IRS. She said the man told her that her university grants had unpaid taxes, and if she did not pay $1,200, she would face major consequences.
“He was telling me I could get expelled from school, that I could go to jail, all of this stuff,” said Lawson, an athletic training major. “It ruined my whole day. I was studying for an exam and I was just so upset, I couldn’t study anymore.”
Lawson, 20, said what made the call believable at first was that the scammer knew her name, university, major, and email without her telling them, which Lawson suspects they may have pulled off of the MSU people search page. She said the call “got corny” when the man asked her if she had a credit or debit card and how much money was on it. When the caller hung up on her, Lawson immediately contacted MSU Police.
Another fraudulent call victim was MSU junior Reggie Ferrell. He said he received a call from 911 on his morning walk to class, and was told by a man claiming to be a federal officer that he needed to pay taxes on his student loans.
“This guy said there’s a warrant out for my arrest because there was a student loan tax I hadn’t paid,” said Ferrell, 21. “He said the police would be after me. At the time it made sense. I was like, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I trust you for some weird reason.’”
Unlike Lawson, Ferrell said he did not see through the deception and sent $1,300 in cash to the scammer through two separate payments via a money transferring service in hopes of making the issue “all go away.”
“I lost my mom in August,” said Ferrell, a member of MSU’s track and field team. “It was a lot of growing up I had to do this year… I’m just so used to doing things on my own, it just seemed like maybe this is just how the real world is.”
Ferrell said he spent about three hours on the phone with the supposed officer, and was told that he could not hang up or tell anyone about the call because it was a federal matter. After two trips to the bank, one for the fraudulent tax payments and another for a “processing fee,” Ferrell said he talked to an adviser at the Clara Bell Smith Center who told him that the phone call was most likely a scam. Ferrell said he then turned to the MSU Police and the Lansing Police Department.
Looking back on the fraudulent call now, Ferrell said there were warning signs such as the caller asking for his location, using a money transferring service, being told not to hang up or talk about the call and the 911 phone number.
“Trying to do too much on my own kind of backfired,” said Ferrell. “Anybody who tells you that you can’t talk to anybody else, or you can’t hang up or is just threatening you over a phone call is not legit.”
According to MSU Police, the fraudulent callers will say they are from local or federal law enforcement agencies, with corresponding caller ID numbers, and attempt to solicit money under that guise.
“Law enforcement, or the court system, or the IRS or any federal government agencies are not going to ask for payment to take care of a situation over the phone,” said MSU Police Captain Doug Monette. “They’re not going to ask for money or personal information. What you do is just say ‘I’m not interested,’ and hang up.”
The scammer usually tells recipients that they owe money for an arrest warrant, unpaid student loan taxes, federal or state taxes, or immigration issues and insists that this debt be paid using a prepaid card or money transferring service.
“We have sent out multiple press releases and information on this because it’s been a problem,” said Monette. “People are confused and upset that this is happening, and they’re saying that the phone number comes back to the FBI or the MSU Police or whoever it may be, but [the caller] is just spoofing the number.”
Monette said that while selection of the receivers of these fraudulent calls may be random, scammers tend to look for law-abiding citizens with little to no contact with law enforcement who will try and do the right thing by complying to avoid any law trouble. International college students have been targeted in the past.
“It goes in spurts,” said Monette, “but we see calls a little bit more around tax season because of returns, where [scammers] know that people are potentially coming into a little bit of money depending on how people do their personal taxes.”
Monette warns to never wire money to a stranger or someone you have not met in person, never give financial information out over the phone, be skeptical of phone numbers on caller ID because they can be spoofed and to never give out your social security number, PIN, or passwords.
If you receive a fraudulent call, file a complaint at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center. For more information visit the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force website, or OnGuardOnline.gov.
“It makes you a lot more aware of people,” said Lawson. “I didn’t know that was an actual thing, that people actually tried to scam you, so now I know.”