Scams and Safety

What Are Scams?

Scams are dishonest, illegal schemes that aim to make money by deceiving people. Each year, scammers who claim to be from U.S. government agencies and law enforcement agencies such as the Social Security Office, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or the police call international students and scholars, demanding money — including gift cards, Bitcoin, cash, checks, or credit card payments  — and threaten them with arrest or deportation if they don't pay.

Scammers can be very aggressive and often employ scare tactics to try to intimidate potential victims. Please familiarize yourself with the common scam tactics listed below and understand that legitimate representatives of the U.S. government or law enforcement agencies will NEVER threaten you or ask you to send them money or gift cards.

Do not be afraid to hang up the phone or ignore a suspicious email. If you are unsure about a call or request, please call the UC Police Department at 510-642-3333. You can also email Berkeley International Office at or contact us for advising.

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Common Scams

International students and scholars should be especially aware of the following types of scams:

Housing Scams

These primarily appear as online advertisements on sites such as or Facebook groups. The contact person will insist that you send them money for housing accommodations even though you have not yet visited the property in person. When you show up to the address, the place is unavailable. If you are required to wire money ahead of time, please be sure the housing post is legitimate. Check the address on Google Maps or a search engine to ensure it is a residential building. Try to arrange a digital viewing via Skype, FaceTime, etc. to confirm it is a real address and to see the unit in person.

Phone Scams

Callers say that they are from a government or law enforcement agency such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the police. They seem to have a lot of your personal information and threaten to have you deported or file a complaint if you don't send money immediately. Please note that phone scammers are often able to mask true phone number and can appear to be calling from a legitimate U.S. government agency number. Do not give them any information or follow their instructions.

If someone claims to be from a government agency, ask for their full name, job title, department, email, and phone number. Let them know that you will be contacting your International Student or Scholar Advisor for advice before responding. Bring the information to Berkeley International Office, and an advisor can follow up to see if this is a legitimate request. If the individual refuses to provide identification, they do not work for a government agency.

Please be aware that it is highly unusual for legitimate representatives of USCIS, the IRS, ICE, or other government and law enforcment agencies to call individuals about a pending case. Almost all contact from these agencies is in writing, generally by U.S. mail.

Phone Scams Targeting Chinese Citizens

Scammers impersonate Chinese law enforcement officials, consulates, embassies, banks, or government agencies and target Chinese citizens who are on student visas at U.S. universities. The scammers claim that you are under investigation in China for criminal activities and ask you for personal information such as your name, date of birth, Chinese ID number, passport number, financial information, etc.

Visa Appointment Agents

Visa "Consultants" in some countries are selling U.S. visa appointments to students for as much as $1,000. These agents claim priority or expedited visa appointment slots, but are actually following the exact same procedures as others to secure the appointment, and do not have any special access.

If you are planning to apply for or renew your student visa in the near future, be sure to go through the official channels to book your appointment directly with the U.S. consulate or embassy. 

COVID-19 Scams

COVID-19 text or robocall scams may falsely advertise a cure or offer bogus tests. Learn more and see examples of scam texts and listen to actual scam audio. See the Federal Trade Commission’s website for more information on COVID-19-related scams.

Tuition Scams

Tuition scams promise international students a tuition discount if they allow a third party service to pay their fees. Scammers ask students to provide their username and password for the school’s online tuition payment portal so they can make a payment on behalf of the student. The student then sends funds to the scammer, only to find out that the tuition payment made by the scammer used invalid, stolen credit card information. Never share your online credentials with anyone and only use payment methods and third parties approved by UC Berkeley.

Street Scams

Strangers may approach you in public and pressure you into accepting unwanted goods or services in return for money. Other scams may involve trying to coerce you into providing money or assistance, or diverting your attention while taking your belongings.

Phishing Scams

In a "phishing" email scheme, criminals pose as a trusted person or organization, such as a bank or government agency.  They will go to great lengths to make the email appear legitimate, and will often contain links to a phony website intended to bait victims into providing financial account information, passwords, and other information that can lead to identity theft. Recipients of a W-2 tax form from UC Berkeley should be aware of phishing emails containing W-2 or tax information. Read more here and here.

Part-Time Job Scams

The scammer will send you an email offering a part-time job that allows you to earn money while you study. There are various ways that the scammer may obtain money or information from you. Do NOT respond to these emails or click any links therein. See the example email below.

***Beginning of scam email***

From: [email redacted]
Date: Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 9:22 A

Dear Student,

We got your email addresses from The University of California in Berkeley database and I'm happy to inform you that our reputable company, J.K manufacturing company is currently running a student empowerment program, this program is to help hardworking students to secure a part-time job which does not deter you from doing your daily activities, you only need few hours to do this weekly with an attractive weekly salary $300 per week. Kindly get back to us via this email if you are interested in this part-time job offer .

Kind regards

Mr.Bernard Scort

HR/Recruit Manager/Consultant

J.K Manufacturing Company

***End of scam email***

Employment/Internship Recruiting Scams

Recruitment services can help place students in internship opportunities. Before using one of these services, ask yourself if it is really something you need; you may well be qualified and capable of finding a great internship without using a recruitment service. You may wish to consult with a Berkeley Career Engagement Center counselor to find out if this type of service could be beneficial for you.

If you do decide to use a recruitment service, it is best to do some research beforehand. While many of these services may be legitimate, proceed with caution, especially if they charge for their services. Here are some tips on vetting a recruiter:

  • Ask a lot of questions. Will they find you an internship, or will they simply set up informational interviews? Find out exactly what you will be getting, especially if it is a paid service.
  • Ask the recruiter to connect you with students (more than one) who have used their services in the past so that you can consult with them.
  • Carefully read through the terms of any contract you sign.
  • Maintain good communication with the recruiter. If you need information or clarification at any point, ask. A long response time could be a red flag.

For detailed information on safe practices when reseraching employers, visit the Berkeley Career Engagement Center's Research Employers web page.

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Scam Avoidance

How do I ensure I don't fall victim to one of these scams?

  • Never send money, gift cards, or give out personal information or immigration details to anyone over the phone or online. If the caller seems to have a lot of your personal information, do not give them any more information. 
  • If you receive a phone call from a person that claims they are from a "government agency" and asks for money or threatens you with legal action, you should assume it is a scam. Legitimate representatives of USCIS, the IRS, and other government agencies will NEVER threaten you, ask you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Ask the caller for a name and telephone number. If the caller refuses to provide identification, take this as a warning that something is not right.
  • Don't be afraid to say "no," hang up, ignore a verbal request, or walk away if you feel uncomfortable.

If you are unsure about a call or request, reach out to Berkeley International Office at 510-642-2818, the UC Police Department at 510-642-3333, or another UC Berkeley official.

Your safety and security are a priority and concern of ours. If you do find yourself to be an unwitting victim of these scams, please contact a Berkeley International Office advisor immediately. 

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Campus Resources

Campus Police

Student Legal Services

Online Resources

Housing Scams (

Common Scams (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Identity Theft and Internet Scams (National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies)

Scams (Federal Trade Commission)

Scams and Fraud (

Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number (Social Security Administration)

Ten Tips to Protect Personal Information (Office of the Inspector General)

Research Employers (Berkeley Career Engagement Center)

Fraud Warning (U.S. Department of State)

IRS Imposter Scams (Video - Federal Trade Commission)

Safety at UC Berkeley and in the Bay Area

Your safety is extremely important. While UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley are generally safe, crime does occur. Further, the university campus is not an isolated, gated-off location; rather, it’s integrated within the city of Berkeley. That means that the general public is free to walk through the campus.

The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) and the UC Police Department (UCPD) are available 24 hours a day to help you. Please use the chart below to determine whom to call in emergency and non-emergency situations.

On Campus Off Campus

Call 911 to reach BPD.

Then call UCPD (510-642-3333 or any blue light emergency phone).

Call 911 to reach BPD.
Non-emergency Call UCPD (510-642-6760). Call 510-981-5900 to reach BPD’s non-emergency line.

Dialing 911 anywhere in the U.S. will always connect you to the emergency response team of the police department nearest to you. Immediately dial 911 in all emergencies.

In an emergency situation, use a blue light phone on the UC Berkeley campus to connect immediately to UCPD.

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Encounters with Law Enforcement or the Legal System

If you have had an encounter with law enforcement, it's important to contact BIO as soon as possible to understand what the impact may be on your F-1/J-1 status, as well as next steps and resources for support. 

What can I do if I or someone I know is target of, or witness to, a hate crime or hate-motivated act? Where can I report an incident of harassment or violence?

If you have witnessed or experienced intimidation, harassment, or violence against individuals and targeted groups you can file a report with UC Police Department.  The Centers for Justice & Community Engagement offers resources for reporting hate crimes or hate motivated acts, including links to confidential and non-confidential support resources for students, faculty, staff and visiting scholars.

What are my rights and how can I protect myself? How can I help other students, scholars, or employees?

The American Civil Liberties Union has a series of Know Your Rights resources available on topics of immigration status, being stopped by police, attending demonstrations/protests, and anti-Muslim discrimination. The Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement pamphet offers specific advice about airports and ports of entry.

Counseling and Psychological Services Look for the Signs website can help you to support students or scholars in distress.  Center for Support and Intervention offers information on Violence and Harm Prevention

The  University of California has provided a detailed FAQ for members of the UC community concerned about immigration enforcement actions occurring across the country. See the University of California FAQ for University Employees about Federal Enforcement Actions on University Property.

What legal issues could currently jeopardize my status?

At any time, it is important to avoid any violations of your F-1 or J-1 status. In addition to enrollment requirements, address reporting, or employment restrictions individuals in non-immigrant status are expected to refrain from breaking any U.S. state or federal laws. (The American Civil Liberties Union has a series of Know Your Rights resources available including being stopped by police, and attending demonstrations/protests.) Please think carefully before engaging in protest activities, as arrests can seriously impact immigration status or future visa applications. If you do choose to engage, BIO encourages you to review UC Berkeley's suggestions regarding how to protest safely. Arrests or convictions that involve violence, drugs or alcohol can have serious or long-lasting impact on current or future immigration status.

Also be aware that while marijuana use is legal in many U.S. states, it remains illegal at the federal level and use constitutes a violation of federal law. Use of marijuana, or alcohol/drug-related DUI arrests or convictions due can lead to severe immigration consequences ranging from fines, visa cancellation to deportation.

If you are arrested or have any legal concerns, please contact Berkeley International Office immediately. In such cases, we urge you to retain immigration legal counsel to advise you as to next steps and possible consequences. UC Berkeley Student Legal Services provides legal resources related to California law for enrolled students, but cannot advise on immigration issues. BIO can provide you with  immigration legal referrals.

BIO Student Advisers are available during our advising hours. Advising for J-1 Visiting Scholars, Professors, Researchers and Student Researchers is available by appointment only, by calling (510) 642-2818.

Am I allowed to participate in protests?

Please think carefully before engaging in protest activities, as arrests can seriously impact immigration status or future visa applications. If you do choose to engage, BIO encourages you to review UC Berkeley's suggestions regarding how to protest safely. Arrests or convictions that involve violence, drugs or alcohol can have serious or long-lasting impact on current or future immigration status.

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General Safety Tips

Safety norms differ from country to country, so it's important to be aware of standard practices in the U.S. As you read through these tips, consider which ones you follow already and which you should adopt in Berkeley.

  • Leave the following documents at home: I-20, DS-2019, passport, social security card. You can carry photocopies of these or get an official California state ID card to carry in your wallet.   
  • Lock doors and windows of your home and your car when you leave. 
  • Do not leave valuables visible in cars or unattended in public spaces such as restaurants, libraries, or cafes.
  • Hold your electronics, wallet, and purse tightly, especially on public transit.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night and especially when using electronics.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at ATMs. Do not count money in public.
  • Use a high-quality U-lock and cable on your bike.
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Safety at Night

Take caution when walking late at night. Walk with groups of friends and keep your electronics hidden. You can also make use of UC Berkeley’sNight Safety Services. These include late night escorts (UCPD officers who will walk you home) and shuttle bus services. 

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Protect Your Valuables

How to lock your bike diagram

Credit: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

Lock your bike with a U-Lock instead of a cable lock. U-Locks are solid steel and harder to cut than cable locks, which can be cut very easily. Always secure your bike, including both wheels and the frame, to a bike rack or solid object. Learn more about bicycle theft prevention on UCPD's website.

Keep your valuables close. Never leave backpacks, laptops, or electronic devices unattended!

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Loss or Theft of Important Documents

Follow the steps below if any of your immigration or other sensitive documents have been lost or stolen.

  • In the case of theft, file a police report with the police department in the area where the theft occurred. If the theft occurred on campus, file with UCPD. Keep copies of the police report for your records.
  • If your debit or credit card was lost or stolen, contact your bank and/or credit card company to put a hold on your account or to cancel your card.
  • If your passport was lost or stolen, contact your home country's nearest consulate or embassy to report the loss/theft and to apply for a new passport. You may need the police report to begin the application. 
  • If your passport containing an F-1/J-1 visa was lost or stolen, report the visa lost/stolen by following the U.S. Department of State's instructions. The next time you depart the U.S., you will need to apply for a new F-1 or J-1 visa for re-entry into the U.S. (Exception: Canadian passport holders do not need a visa to enter the U.S.)
  • If your I-20 or DS-2019 was lost or stolen, request a replacement document from Berkeley International Office.
  • If your Social Security card was lost or stolen, apply for a replacement. You must meet the eligibility criteria to apply for a replacement.
  • If you suspect your Social Security card or number was stolen, follow instructions here to protect yourself from identity theft.  (See Social Security Numbers for information on SSN safety.)
  • If your driver's license or California state ID was lost, apply for a replacement by following the DMV's instructions.
  • If your unexpired OPT/STEM OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) was lost or stolen, you should apply for a replacement EAD