Last week, the University of Minnesota's weekly Public Safety Update warned students about a new scam involving some relatively sophisticated techniques.
Here's how it works. The scammers, posing as cops or the FBI, call potential victims -- many of them international students -- and tell them they owe money in overdue court or legal fees. If the students don't pay over the phone, they'll be arrested, the scammers threaten.
"Another version has the scammers telling victims that they owe tax money to the State of Minnesota and their admission to the University of Minnesota will be cancelled if they do not pay," the update says. "They follow up with instructions about where to drop off or transfer funds."
Here's the twist -- the calls appear on caller IDs as originating from a UMPD phone number, which obviously lends (false) credence to what the scammers are saying.
"To be very clear: The UMPD does not collect fines over the phone, and the State of Minnesota does not handle tax matters over the phone," the update continues. "If you receive a call, do not arrange to pay any amount and do not provide any personal information such as date of birth, social security number, student ID, or cell phone numbers. Instead, please contact the University of Minnesota Police at 612-624-2677."
Chuck Miner, deputy chief of the U of M police department, tells us reports about the calls have tapered off since the public safety update was released.
Miner says that while scams of that sort are nothing new on campus, what's new in this case is the scammers posing as UMPD officers.
"They're targeting international students because they think they might make the easiest targets for whatever reason," he continues.
No arrests have been made, and getting to the bottom of cases of this sort isn't easy for agencies like the UMPD.
"There's indications with scams like this that they often originate from overseas," Miner explains.
In general, Miner says campus has been more peaceful this semester than it was last year, when students demanded officials do something, anything amid a string of high-profile crimes.
Miner points out that most of last year's crime took place near campus, not on it, but adds, "So far [near-campus crime] has been down as well as on campus."
"There have been a couple robberies over the last month or so, but not in the quantities as last year," he says.