Students Targeted in Sophisticated SEVIS Fee Scam20 May 2015
Representatives from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are cautioning foreign national students against falling prey to a new, sophisticated telephone scam. The scammers are targeting unsuspecting F-1 and M-1 students in the Chicago, Illinois area, demanding payment for I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fees.
Fraudulent Requests Use Phone Data to Appear Genuine
These scammers, claiming to be representatives of the DHS, SEVP, and/or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are contacting foreign national students by phone, saying that substantial sums of money are owed for SEVIS fees. They are threatening the students with deportation if the fees are not paid. Worse still, these criminals are taking advantage of the “location services” apps on the cellular phones of students to determine the locations of their intended victims and make their threats appear genuine.
Legitimate SEVP Letters Add to the Confusion
The reports of the telephone scam began shortly after SEVP issued legitimate letters to students who had failed to remit the I-901 SEVIS fees. These letters appropriately and accurately include warnings of the consequences of continued nonpayment, including termination of the student’s SEVIS record and potential removal (i.e. deportation). These genuine letters are no doubt making it that much easier for scammers to trick students into providing payment information over the telephone.
How to Protect Yourself
SEVP directs students to disregard any telephone requests for collection of form I-901 fees. SEVP does not make collection phone calls and does not ask for payments to be made by phone. In fact, the DHS cautions, “[i]f you receive any phone calls from a person attempting to collect an I-901 SEVIS fee or any other payment on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or SEVP, hang up immediately and call your local Police Department. Then you should contact your designated school official (DSO).”
The amounts of money requested are also a clear red flag for fraud. The individuals perpetrating these crimes typically request large sums – some demanding as much as $4,000. The actual form I-901 fee is $200 or less, not including a possible small, additional surcharge imposed if the payment check is returned by the bank, such as when there are insufficient funds in the bank account.
Conclusion: Action Plan
Students who receive calls demanding I-901 form payments should not divulge any personal or financial information. Intended victims instead should report any such incidents to SEVP and the local police department. Immigrants often are common, vulnerable targets of such schemes. If there is any doubt, request phone numbers, names, employee numbers, written confirmation, and other such information, so that the matter can be properly investigated.
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