The Berkeley International Office has learned that some UC Berkeley students have received threatening phone calls from individuals pretending to work at U.S. government agencies such as the Social Security Office or Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Each year, scammers who claim to be from the U.S. government call international students and scholars, demanding money — including gift cards, Bitcoin, cash, checks, credit card payments  — and threaten students with arrest or deportation if they don’t pay.

How can I tell if a call from a federal agency is legitimate?

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. If someone is threatening you in any way, hang up immediately and call the police. Please be aware that it is highly unusual for legitimate representatives of USCIS, the IRS, and other government agencies to call individuals about a pending case. Almost all contact from these agencies is in writing, generally by U.S. mail.

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.

Scammers can be very aggressive and often employ scare tactics to try to intimidate potential victims. Please review the list of common tactics below. Do not be afraid to say “no” and hang up.

What are some known or common scam tactics?

Here are a few examples of scams. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

  • An individual claiming to be a “government official” calls and says that you owe them money and are in danger of being deported or arrested. They demand you pay them immediately in the form of cash, wire transfer, or gift cards.
  • Someone emails you and promises you a job if you pay them.
  • An individual indicates there is “something wrong” with your Social Security Number or immigration record.
  • An individual claims you are a victim of identity theft, your Social Security Number has been compromised, or there is a warrant out against you.
  • Someone requests that you wire funds prior to seeing an apartment or housing property that appears very inexpensive compared to other similar housing options in the area, or seems too good to be true.

Sometimes a scammer may use technology to make it appear as though they are calling from a legitimate U.S. government number. Again, note that U.S. government representatives will never and call and ask for your personal information, money, or gift cards. 

What should I do if I gave my Social Security Number or other information to a caller?

Use the resources provided by the Federal Trade Commission at to protect yourself from identity theft. Notify your bank and/or credit card company if you provided any details regarding your accounts. Also, we ask that you call the Berkeley International Office immediately.

How can I ensure I do not 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 out any more information. If you are unsure about a call or request that you received, you can always reach out to the Berkeley International Office at 510-642-2818, the UC Police Department at 510-642-3333, or another UC Berkeley official.

Visit the Scams and Safety webpage on the Berkeley International Office website for more information.