2 Madison women duped out of $5,500 in phone scam

MPD: Phone scam targeting international students
2 Madison women duped out of $5,500 in phone scam

Two young Madison women have been duped out of a total of $5,500, police said Tuesday.

The Madison Police Department said a 20-year-old woman told police Monday that she got a call from what appeared to be the police department. The caller had a thick Indian accent and told her she had tax issues and needed to pay $5,000 immediately to avoid penalties.

Police said the woman followed directions the man gave her over the phone and took out $5,000 worth of “Steam Wallet” gift cards from Best Buy and provided the PIN on the cards to the caller.

A second woman, a 19-year-old UW-Madison student, told police she got the same call Monday morning but knew it was a fraud attempt and didn’t pay the caller any money.

A third woman who reported the scam to police, also a UW-Madison student, lost $500.

Investigators said it appears the overseas scam artist was able to alter caller ID numbers to make it appear as though the call was coming from the Madison Police Department.

DeSpain said investigators believe the scammers are specifically targeting international students; both victims were female UW-Madison students from Asian countries.

“They’re told that they’re behind in taxes and if they don’t pay up right away, by going to a local store and taking out gift cards, they’re going to be arrested and going to have their visa taken away,” DeSpain said. “(The scammers) appear to have some type of directory, because these victims are telling us they have their student email numbers and other identifying information.”

Police are working with UW-Madison on a plan to alert others who new to campus about the scam.

“We’ll be doing some similar messaging in the next few days so students are aware,” UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott said. “We’ve (reached out) to the international student program.”

DeSpain said both Best Buy and Steam are aware of the scams and are warning customers about them.