Kinne warns of extortion scam

by Sungil Ahn | 4/6/16 6:57pm

Safety and Security director Harry Kinne sent out a campus-wide e-mail this past Saturday warning students about “criminal attempts to extort money from Dartmouth College students.” The scam involved phone calls in which the caller claims to be an FBI agent and threatens to arrest the student immediately if they hang up, Kinne said.

While details of the scam calls differ from case to case, all of the calls involve threatening the student in order to extort personal information or financial funds, Sanbornton Police Department Sergeant Justin Howe said.

The students are told they have unpaid taxes or loans, usually education taxes, and that the arrest warrant will be canceled if they pay immediately, Kinne said in his original email to campus. The caller also tells the students that they will be arrested or will not receive their college degree if they refuse to pay.

The FBI Bedford office currently knows of one victim who sent approximately $3,300 through MoneyGram — a money transfer service which has been criticized in the past for criminally aiding and abetting wire fraud — with a supposed destination of Tennessee, according to a Sanbornton Police Department press release.

The caller ID indicates that the call is coming from the FBI Bedford office, Kinne said, adding that the caller often tells the students to search online for the phone number to verify that the number is from the Bedford office.

Kinne said the perpetrator is likely operating from outside the country and is “spoofing” his phone numbers. Spoofing can easily be done with open-source software at minimal cost and effort in order to fake the caller ID. In this case, the perpetrator is spoofing his caller IDs to convince the students that he is, in fact, an FBI agent, Kinne said.

FBI supervisory senior resident agent Scott O’Donnell wrote in an email that the phone scams target college students in particular.

Colleges in New Hampshire, particularly Dartmouth and Keene State College, have been affected by this series of scam calls, but other colleges nationwide have seen variations of the scam, Kinne said.

Howe also noted that this specific series of scam calls has affected people across the country and that the scams affecting Dartmouth and Keene State College are a “drop in the bucket.”

Variations of the scam include callers identifying themselves as federal agents from either the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Kinne said.

While Kinne said he does not know how many people were affected, the FBI Bedford field office has received approximately 30 calls from Dartmouth students claiming to have received these scam calls from Nov. 17 to Nov. 18, according to the Sanbornton Police Department press release.

Kinne said students should hang up immediately if they receive a similar call. He added it is “very unlikely” that federal agencies will call students under these types of circumstances.

“They would need to send you a letter and/or they would come and visit you in person,” he said. “But they wouldn’t call you and have them send any funds or threaten you in any way over the phone.”

Howe recommended affected students follow up with the local agency, police department or attorney general’s office to validate the claim.

O’Donnell noted that the FBI does not call private citizens requesting money.

“Never give out unsolicited requests for personal information to callers that you don’t know,” he said.

Howe said to not give out any information to anyone “unless you’re absolutely certain of their credentials and who they are, which usually isn’t an option if you’re talking over the phone.”

Individuals receiving such calls can file a complaint through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.